Review: The Sun Is Also A Star - Nicola Yoon

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“Sometimes your world shakes so hard, it’s difficult to imagine that everyone else isn’t feeling it too.”

My Rating: ★★★★

Genre(s): Young Adult, Contemporary, Romance, Fiction

Reading Challenge: 19 out of 35

Goodreads Synopsis —

Natasha: I’m a girl who believes in science and facts. Not fate. Not destiny. Or dreams that will never come true. I’m definitely not the kind of girl who meets a cute boy on a crowded New York City street and falls in love with him. Not when my family is twelve hours away from being deported to Jamaica. Falling in love with him won’t be my story.

Daniel: I’ve always been the good son, the good student, living up to my parents’ high expectations. Never the poet. Or the dreamer. But when I see her, I forget about all that. Something about Natasha makes me think that fate has something much more extraordinary in store—for both of us.

The Universe: Every moment in our lives has brought us to this single moment. A million futures lie before us. Which one will come true?

My Thoughts —

Alright, so let me start by saying that I completely devoured this book. I gave myself about a week to get through it as I wanted to finish it before I left for my Florida trip but I literally completed it in 24 hours lol. So, I think it’s safe to say that I thoroughly enjoyed it.

This was not the first Nicola Yoon book that I’ve ever read. A couple summers back, I read “Everything, Everything” which, at the time, was really talked about because it was being adapted into a film. When I first read it, I really enjoyed it but when I started reading reviews by other readers, I started feeling uneasy because there was a lot of talk about how it sort of took the subject of disability and sort of diluted it for the purpose of the plot. In spite of this, I had heard a lot about “The Sun Is Also A Star” so I decided to give it a go.

There were two main things I really liked about this book. The first was the discussion on immigration, and the other was fate. Honestly, both were really well done. I loved how the two main characters were both influenced by immigration and yet their stories and circumstances were hardly similar. I liked the dichotomy in their families, pasts and lifestyles as I think it greatly impacted their lives and their viewpoints. In terms of the fate storyline, my favourite aspect wasn’t even really how the idea of fate affected the main characters’ love story, but rather who they came across in their 24 hour trek across New York City. In their day together, Natasha and Daniel met or passed several people and it was so interesting to see how they played off of one another and how their interactions were so important to one another’s lives.

I really don’t want to give away any of this story. It honestly took so many sharp turns and I think that giving away one detail sort of spoils all the fun! Personally, I think that if you’re considering reading this novel, I’d wait until you have the opportunity to really devote your time to it! For me, reading this novel in a day helped with the general flow of the novel, although I know that doing so isn’t possible for everyone. I’d just make sure you have time to read this in big chunks because I think it makes it easier to follow the different storylines and keep track of all the characters!

Do you believe in fate?

Felicia x

Review: My Plain Jane - Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton and Jodi Meadows

“If there was something strange in your neighborhood, you could, um, write the Society a letter, and they would promptly send an agent to take care of it.”

My Rating: ★★★★★

Genre(s): Fantasy, Young Adult, Historical Fiction, Retelling

Reading Challenge: 18 out of 35

Goodreads Synopsis —

You may think you know the story. After a miserable childhood, penniless orphan Jane Eyre embarks on a new life as a governess at Thornfield Hall. There, she meets one dark, brooding Mr. Rochester. Despite their significant age gap (!) and his uneven temper (!!), they fall in love—and, Reader, she marries him. (!!!)

Or does she?

Prepare for an adventure of Gothic proportions, in which all is not as it seems, a certain gentleman is hiding more than skeletons in his closets, and one orphan Jane Eyre, aspiring author Charlotte Brontë, and supernatural investigator Alexander Blackwood are about to be drawn together on the most epic ghost hunt this side of Wuthering Heights.

My Thoughts —

The Janies have released yet another retelling masterpiece. And reader, I loved it.

If you haven’t already read my review of My Lady Jane, which I posted last year, now would be a great time to do that! You can read that here.

Okay, onto the review! So, first thing to note is that you don’t need to read My Lady Jane before you read this book. In fact, you don’t need to read it at all - but you should! Because My Lady Jane was amazing and I love-love-loved it. But these books exist entirely on their own. The best way that I could explain the Lady Janies series is by comparing it to an anthology series like American Horror Story, where each season is about a different story and different characters. That’s what these books are. They’ve got a common thread (being about a Jane, whether fictional or historical) but they tell different stories and aren’t connected.

Unlike My Lady Jane, which was a historical retelling, My Plain Jane took on a fictional story - the Charlotte Brontë Gothic novel, Jane Eyre. Some literary purists would probably be really put off by a retelling of a classic, especially one that really changed the course of the novel, but personally, I thought it was so entertaining. The team of authors who jointly put together this book did such a fantastic job at creating a multi-faceted story that combined the original storyline of Jane Eyre with common Gothic era elements as well as contemporary ideas. In this book, just like in My Lady Jane, we saw previously overlooked female characters taking a stand for themselves which was so empowering and amazing.

Something I particularly enjoyed about this book was how Charlotte Brontë took a major part in not only the storytelling but also the plot. In My Plain Jane, Charlotte was a close friend of Jane’s from the beginning of the story and she became an integral part in the main character’s story. But, maintaining a bit of reality, Charlotte was constantly writing down notes about Jane’s life in a notebook to use for a novel, which would ultimately become Jane Eyre. On the whole, it made the story feel a whole lot personal.

And finally, just like in My Lady Jane, My Plain Jane had little author’s notes which was so funny and original. It felt like the authors were telling the reader a story in a more personal way, and that’s something I really love about their books!

All in all, an INCREDIBLE book. If you’re looking for some ghostly fun (maybe a good October read???), definitely check this out, especially if you’re into young adults novels. It’s well worth the 400-some-odd pages!

P.S. I have just found out from the Janies’ blog (here) that they will not only be releasing a third book of the Janies series, My Calamity Jane, but also another trilogy - the Marys!! Which will include a first book about my most favourite tragic lady in history, Mary, Queen of Scots! Can’t wait for her to get the justice she deserved.

Are you a fan of retellings?

Felicia x

Review: All For One - Melissa de la Cruz

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“He in midnight-blue wool, she in dark rose silk with pink and chocolate accents - they were the picture of urbane, young New York society, and she noticed more than one set of eyes glancing at them both approvingly and enviously.”

My Rating: ★★★

Genre(s): Historical Fiction (American Revolution), Young Adult, Romance

Reading Challenge: 17 out of 35

Goodreads Synopsis —

1785. New York, New York.

As a young nation begins to take shape, Alexander Hamilton and Elizabeth Schuyler are on top of the world. They’re the toast of the town, keeping New York City buzzing with tales of their lavish parties, of Eliza’s legendary wit, and of Alex’s brilliant legal mind.

But new additions to Alex & Eliza’s little family mean change is afoot in the Hamilton household. When they agree to take in an orphaned teenage girl along with Eliza’s oldest brother, John Schuyler, Eliza can’t help but attempt a match. It’s not long before sparks start to fly…if only Eliza can keep herself from interfering too much in the course of true love. After all, she and Alex have an arrival of their own to plan for, though Alex’s latest case brings a perilous threat that may destroy everything.

The sweeping love story of Alexander Hamilton and Elizabeth Schuyler comes to a close in All for One, the riveting final instalment of the New York Times bestselling Alex & Eliza trilogy.

My Thoughts —

Whew. Okay. I’ve got a lot to say about this third and final instalment of the Alex and Eliza series, so let’s just jump right in.

As you guys may remember, I read the first book of this Young Adults’ series last October and then read the sequel very shortly after. For me, it was sort of a way to tide myself over until the Hamilton musical makes its way on up to Toronto in 2020. I didn’t really have the time to devote to Ron Chernow’s biography on the Founding Father - the one that Lin-Manuel Miranda based the musical on. So I thought that this YA series would be a great start.

Although I really enjoyed the first book, the sequel fell a little flat for me and this final book really disappointed me, and here’s why.

One of the things I noticed throughout this series is that there are quite a few historical inaccuracies. For the most part, this is pretty understandable because a) historical fiction as a genre leaves a lot of room for interpretation and b) this is a series meant for teens and some of the content of Alexander Hamilton’s history is ummmmm questionable? To say the least lol. I just looked past these little artistic licenses in the past. But in All For One, I honestly just couldn’t.

As the plot of the novel is set-up, we almost immediately find out that Eliza Hamilton is pregnant. Which is super odd because the main chunk of the novel is set during the year of 1785, while Eliza’s first child was actually born in 1782… Strange, right? It gets even weirder when a new, dangerous character called Maria Reynolds is introduced - remember her? If you know the story of the Reynolds affair, you’ll know that it didn’t even happen until 1791. So I’m not sure what the reasoning behind overlapping all of these stories was, but that’s what the author chose to do. I guess it sort of made it seem more dramatic to have all this chaos happening at once? But honestly, I think that the reality was far more tragic. There was a number of other changes made throughout the novel, some small and some consequential that I can’t mention without spoiling. But it just seemed odd and unnecessary and really bugged me.

Another thing that I took issue with in regards to this novel was the fact that it felt a lot like a retelling of Jane Austen’s Emma. Don’t get me wrong - Emma is one of my favourite Austen novels and even of my favourite novels ever. But I didn’t sign-up for a remake. And the Hamilton’s lives didn’t follow the same structure of that novel either. It felt like it was just an easy association to make between the two because they’re set in relatively the same time period and had the same social class dynamic. But then again, the characters that made up this portion of All For One - namely Emma Trask, the young girl that Eliza takes in as a ward/lady’s maid hybrid - weren’t a part of the Hamilton’s lives at all. It was just a strange deviation from the historical aspect of the novel and it made the story of All For One feel a little lacklustre to me.

Personally, as a whole, this series seemed to be geared more towards young teens - like preteens. But then again, the language was very complex for young readers. Although at times there were misplaced modern phrases used (“matchy-matchy” for instance), for the most part, the author chose to use elaborate language that felt like a mix of modern day and 18th century language. I wouldn’t compare the language of this novel to that used in Austen’s novels as this would be probably easier to comprehend for a young reader. But it’s worth mentioning for sure!

If you’re interested in reading these novels or having your kid or another young teen read these novels, I’d suggest taking the historical content with a grain of salt. This isn’t the place to go for a factual retelling of the Hamilton’s story. Consider it as The Other Boleyn Girl film adaptation of Young Adult novels lol.

Have you read a really good Hamilton historical fiction? Let me know in the comments!

Felicia x

Review: The Familiars - Stacey Halls

“If the Devil is poverty, and hunger, and grief, then yes, I think they know the Devil.”

My Rating: ★★★★

Genre(s): Historical Fiction (Pendle witches), Fantasy, Paranormal

Reading Challenge: 16 out of 35

Goodreads Synopsis —

Young Fleetwood Shuttleworth, a noblewoman, is with child again. None of her previous pregnancies have borne fruit, and her husband, Richard, is anxious for an heir. Then Fleetwood discovers a hidden doctor’s letter that carries a dire prediction: she will not survive another birth. By chance she meets a midwife named Alice Grey, who promises to help her deliver a healthy baby. But Alice soon stands accused of witchcraft.

Is there more to Alice than meets the eye? Fleetwood must risk everything to prove her innocence. As the two women’s lives become intertwined, the Witch Trials of 1612 loom. Time is running out; both their lives are at stake. Only they know the truth. Only they can save each other.

Rich and compelling, set against the frenzy of the real Pendle Hill Witch Trials, this novel explores the rights of 17th-century women and raises the question: Was witch-hunting really women-hunting? Fleetwood Shuttleworth, Alice Grey and the other characters are actual historical figures. King James I was obsessed with asserting power over the lawless countryside (even woodland creatures, or “familiars,” were suspected of dark magic) by capturing “witches”—in reality mostly poor and illiterate women.

My Thoughts —

Following my trend of only reading historical fiction novels (seriously, will I ever steer from this genre?!), I picked up this book after reading a bit about it on Goodreads. I’ve never really learned much about the history of witchcraft before, all though I knew about as much as the average person knows and after taking a recent course on the Stuart rule in England, I got the gist that James I wasn’t a big fan of witchcraft (or what he perceived to be witchcraft) in his kingdom. Despite my lack of knowledge, I picked this book up as sort of a beginner’s crash course on the topic. And it ended up doing the trick - I’m officially ready to learn more about this fascinating period of history!

I really liked how Stacey Halls flipped the perception of witches on its head completely by suggesting that the witch hunt was more of a fight for power and an attack on the poor than a reaction to an actual threat of danger. In this book, Fleetwood Shuttleworth - a young noblewoman - finds herself smack-dab in the middle of the Pendle witch trial when she believes someone to be wrongly accused and takes it upon herself to try to uncover the truth. What she finds is a world unlike her own, especially in regards to funds - those accused of witchcraft are disproportionately poor. Through her search, she discovers not only the truth about those involved in the alleged crimes, but also about those closest to her. The idea that the accused were not actually witches, but poor women who were unable to defend themselves is extremely eye-opening about the witch trials in general and how we perceive them today. In that time, what was unusual was considered evil, and the innocent were often persecuted.

Additionally, the way that women were portrayed in this novel was especially interesting. In the early 17th century, women had no rights and no position in the home or in society. They were silent figures that followed their fathers and their husbands - whether those men were good and right, or not. Fleetwood, our main character, has had significant hardship in her life as a young woman. At only 17 years old, she has endured horrors worst than most have in a lifetime. But these things have not broken her down - in fact, they have only made her stronger. And her friendship with her midwife, Alice, only empowers her more. But it is the witch trials that really sends her into full-force. She knows what she believes in and she follows this, regardless of if it is what her husband or society expects of her. Because of this, she becomes a full-fledged heroine. Through her journey, she highlights the greatest abuses against women in the early modern times and it is immensely inspiring.

Perhaps what I found most intriguing about this book, however, was what came after the novel - the Author’s Note, in which it was explained that the characters were real people who lived in 17th century England. That Alice Gray was accused and (perhaps more bogglingly) acquitted of witchcraft. The reason behind this acquittal has not been determined, even now, several hundred years later. Being a history nut myself, I found this mystery completely gripping and had even more appreciation for Stacey Halls, who gave a story to a woman whose life is an enigma.

Are you interested in the witch trials?

Felicia x

Review: Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald - Therese Anne Fowler

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“Won’t we be quite the pair? - you with your bad heart, me with my bad head. Together, though, we might have something worthwhile.”

My Rating: ★★★★

Genre(s): Historical Fiction (1920s/Lost Generation), Fiction

Reading Challenge: 15 out of 35

Goodreads Synopsis —

A dazzling novel that captures all of the romance, glamour, and tragedy of the first flapper, Zelda Fitzgerald. 

When beautiful, reckless Southern belle Zelda Sayre meets F. Scott Fitzgerald at a country club dance in 1918, she is seventeen years old and he is a young army lieutenant stationed in Alabama. Before long, the "ungettable" Zelda has fallen for him despite his unsuitability: Scott isn't wealthy or prominent or even a Southerner, and keeps insisting, absurdly, that his writing will bring him both fortune and fame. 

Her father is deeply unimpressed. But after Scott sells his first novel, This Side of Paradise, to Scribner's, Zelda optimistically boards a train north, to marry him in the vestry of St. Patrick's Cathedral and take the rest as it comes.

My Thoughts —

My opinion completely changed over the course of this novel, in a way that has literally never happened to me before.

To me, it seemed like this book started off kind of slow. We see Zelda Sayre, young and fresh-faced southern girl, very naive about the world around her and even more full of spunk - much to her family’s dismay. In the final moments of the Great War, Zelda meets F. Scott Fitzgerald, a northerner that introduces her to a whole new world. The two fall in love and then embark on their lives together, first in Manhattan and then across the world. The early years of their lives are not nearly as tumultuous as the later years, so it’s sort of monotonous in the beginning as F. Scott Fitzgerald becomes quickly successful and the two ride on the money and fame that came along with it.

It’s not until about halfway through the book that things really start to take a turn and that the book begins to earn the 4-star rating I gave it in the end. The Fitzgeralds are not a couple to aspire to be, that’s for sure. In reality, if you’re familiar with the couple’s ill-fated romance, you’ll know that they both died quite young in the 1940s with Scott first dying of a heart attack and then Zelda dying of a fire in a mental hospital nearly ten years later. Zelda’s mental health condition during their marriage is well-known, with her going in and out of mental hospitals for years. But this book reframes her mental illness entirely. Diagnosed with schizophrenia after suffering from a mental breakdown, Zelda is constantly badgered by her husband and by psychiatrists to give up her aspirations of being a writer and ballet dancer, as these will inevitably be her downfall - it is only be accepting her role as wife and mother that she will be truly happy. But Zelda recognizes this as being wildly misogynistic and unfair. Despite the women’s rights movement being in its very early stages at that time, she knows women deserve a better place in society than what their predecessors were relegated to.

The tortured love between Scott and Zelda is absolutely fascinating throughout the novel as you wonder constantly if the two really loved each other or if they found comfort in each other and mistook that for love. Seeing the deterioration of their marriage and the unequal standards to which they held one another was entirely intriguing to read and I was completely roped in. And, last but certainly not least, I loved that this book focused on a real female figure who is so often overlooked in history because of the success of her husband - even though, as we learn in this novel, she was very much a part of his writing process and success.

Are you a fan of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s work? Did you know anything about Zelda’s story?

Felicia x

Review: Dear Evan Hansen - Val Emmich

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“I looked up once more, at the whole world; it was beautiful, I knew it was, but I wasn’t a part of it. I was never going to be a part of it.”

My Rating: ★★★★

Genre(s): Young Adult, Contemporary, Fiction

Reading Challenge: 14 out of 35

Goodreads Synopsis —

Dear Evan Hansen,

Today's going to be an amazing day and here's why...


When a letter that was never meant to be seen by anyone draws high school senior Evan Hansen into a family's grief over the loss of their son, he is given the chance of a lifetime: to belong. He just has to stick to a lie he never meant to tell, that the notoriously troubled Connor Murphy was his secret best friend.

Suddenly, Evan isn't invisible anymore--even to the girl of his dreams. And Connor Murphy's parents, with their beautiful home on the other side of town, have taken him in like he was their own, desperate to know more about their enigmatic son from his closest friend. As Evan gets pulled deeper into their swirl of anger, regret, and confusion, he knows that what he's doing can't be right, but if he's helping people, how wrong can it be?

No longer tangled in his once-incapacitating anxiety, this new Evan has a purpose. And a website. He's confident. He's a viral phenomenon. Every day is amazing. Until everything is in danger of unraveling and he comes face to face with his greatest obstacle: himself.

A simple lie leads to complicated truths in this big-hearted coming-of-age story of grief, authenticity and the struggle to belong in an age of instant connectivity and profound isolation.

My Thoughts —

So, just a disclaimer right off the bat here that I’ve never seen the musical Dear Evan Hansen - yet. I’m seeing it on June 12 in Toronto, which I’m very excited about! My only knowledge of the musical going into this novel was the general plot and the soundtrack. With that in mind, this is a review only about the novel, Dear Evan Hansen, not the musical.

Now that we’ve cleared that up, let’s jump right in!

I enjoyed this novel immensely. I thought it was a very well-crafted Young Adults novel that dealt with a very important contemporary issue that effects teens. Right off the bat, I connected to Evan Hansen. Although they don’t outright say it, Evan clearly suffers from very severe social anxiety which I also suffer from. I know what it’s like to feel isolated and alone because of mental illness. It’s an all-consuming restriction on your life, especially before you learn how to manage it, and this novel shows Evan really having a hard time coming to terms with his anxiety. I also thought it was cool that they normalized therapy. Yes, he was initially reluctant to try the methods of the therapist but coming from someone who went into therapy telling everyone who would listen that it wasn’t going to work for me, that was definitely something I could relate to. As the book progressed, I think he really learned how important it was to follow through with the methods his therapist was giving him to cope and manage his anxieties, which was great. I got a very similar feeling from Under Rose-Tainted Skies, which I reviewed last year.

I thought it was really interesting how the creators chose to have Evan deal with the death by suicide of his classmate. I think it’s really easy to see Evan pretending to be Connor Murphy’s friend and creating a web of lies, and think he’s just a massive jerk or that the authors dealt with subject insensitively. But I didn’t see it that way. I saw it instead as a kid with limited social skills just completely making a disaster of a situation. What’s interesting about that is that you don’t have to view Evan Hansen as an incredible hero with zero flaws. If all characters were built that way, books would be extremely boring. I liked that he made a massive mistake, I liked that he did the wrong thing. It’s important for people to see characters make the wrong choices so that we can learn a lesson from it. At least, that’s my personal opinion!

Lastly, I just want to say that the real villain of this story was Alana Beck. I won’t spoil the story, but her influence on The Connor Project in the second half of the book left me fuming. I hope to god she’s not that insufferable in the musical.

Have you read Dear Evan Hansen? Or have you seen the musical? What are your thoughts?

Felicia x

Review: The Lost Girls of Paris - Pam Jenoff

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“The truth is sometimes the very opposite from what you expect it to be.”

My Rating: ★★★★

Genre(s): Historical Fiction (WWII), Fiction

Reading Challenge: 13 out of 35

Goodreads Synopsis —

1946, Manhattan

Grace Healey is rebuilding her life after losing her husband during the war. One morning while passing through Grand Central Terminal on her way to work, she finds an abandoned suitcase tucked beneath a bench. Unable to resist her own curiosity, Grace opens the suitcase, where she discovers a dozen photographs—each of a different woman. In a moment of impulse, Grace takes the photographs and quickly leaves the station.

Grace soon learns that the suitcase belonged to a woman named Eleanor Trigg, leader of a ring of female secret agents who were deployed out of London during the war. Twelve of these women were sent to Occupied Europe as couriers and radio operators to aid the resistance, but they never returned home, their fates a mystery. Setting out to learn the truth behind the women in the photographs, Grace finds herself drawn to a young mother turned agent named Marie, whose daring mission overseas reveals a remarkable story of friendship, valor and betrayal.

My Thoughts —

Personally, this book wasn’t one of my favourites of all the historical fictions that I’ve read. I picked it up because it had a very similar premise to The Alice Network, in that it revolved around women who were sent undercover to Nazi-occupied Paris during WWII. While The Alice Network was about women who worked directly as spies, The Lost Girls of Paris was about women who were sent out as primarily radio operators. But I figured it would be quite similar in giving me the feeling that The Alice Network gave me.

Spoiler alert: it wasn’t. And there’s a couple of reasons why this book just didn’t really work for me.

Right off the bat, I had a really hard time getting invested in the characters. The story didn’t just focus on one character’s story, but instead several. So I couldn’t really get the characters straight at the beginning, especially as two of the character’s stories paralleled in time whereas the third character’s story was a couple years later. So mentally, I was having a difficult time discerning who was who and what plotline was going on when - if that makes any sense. Once I finally got a grip on that, the story had already long kicked off and so I wasn’t fully invested in the characters.

Also, I found it frustrating how simple things were and how easily things came to the characters. Obviously, yes, there was significant conflict which you can imagine in a story about women operating in Nazi-occupied territory. But for example, within three pages, a minor conflict was presented and solved. THAT. EASILY. It was really unsatisfying. As crazy as it sounds, I prefer to have a complex conflict that requires a lot of effort and time to resolve, rather than a knot that can be easily untied in a few paragraphs or pages.

Overall, on the surface, the book was entertaining! I enjoyed it for what it was. I think the main downfall here for me personally was that I read The Alice Network before this, and I unintentionally held Lost Girls to a higher standard because of it.

That being said, if you want to read my review of The Alice Network, you can find that here!

What historical fictions have you been loving recently?

Felicia x

Review: Lincoln in the Bardo - George Saunders

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“Some blows fall too heavy upon those too fragile.”

My Rating: ★★★

Genre(s): Fiction, Historical Fiction (19th c.), Fantasy

Reading Challenge: 11 out of 35

Goodreads Synopsis —

In his long-awaited first novel, American master George Saunders delivers his most original, transcendent, and moving work yet. Unfolding in a graveyard over the course of a single night, narrated by a dazzling chorus of voices, Lincoln in the Bardo is a literary experience unlike any other—for no one but Saunders could conceive it.

February 1862. The Civil War is less than one year old. The fighting has begun in earnest, and the nation has begun to realize it is in for a long, bloody struggle. Meanwhile, President Lincoln’s beloved eleven-year-old son, Willie, lies upstairs in the White House, gravely ill. In a matter of days, despite predictions of a recovery, Willie dies and is laid to rest in a Georgetown cemetery. “My poor boy, he was too good for this earth,” the president says at the time. “God has called him home.” Newspapers report that a grief-stricken Lincoln returned to the crypt several times alone to hold his boy’s body.

From that seed of historical truth, George Saunders spins an unforgettable story of familial love and loss that breaks free of its realistic, historical framework into a thrilling, supernatural realm both hilarious and terrifying. Willie Lincoln finds himself in a strange purgatory, where ghosts mingle, gripe, commiserate, quarrel, and enact bizarre acts of penance. Within this transitional state—called, in the Tibetan tradition, the bardo—a monumental struggle erupts over young Willie’s soul.

Lincoln in the Bardo is an astonishing feat of imagination and a bold step forward from one of the most important and influential writers of his generation. Formally daring, generous in spirit, deeply concerned with matters of the heart, it is a testament to fiction’s ability to speak honestly and powerfully to the things that really matter to us. Saunders has invented a thrilling new form that deploys a kaleidoscopic, theatrical panorama of voices—living and dead, historical and invented—to ask a timeless, profound question: How do we live and love when we know that everything we love must end?

My Thoughts —

Okay, so this book didn’t really work for me. I KNOW, I’m like the only person who’s read this book that didn’t like it.

Not that I didn’t like it per se, but I just didn’t love it. Not as much as everyone else seems to enjoy it. I think the problem for me laid in the structure of the novel. There were essentially two types of chapters. The first was a chapter written sort of like a script, where the characters talked in both a dialogue and in a narrative format. The second was a selection of quotes that appeared to be from different sources that discussed Abraham Lincoln and his son, Willie’s death. Each chapter was so fast-paced and short that I just couldn’t get into the story enough.

I also found the style of the writing to be eerily similar to that of Samuel Beckett. If you’ve ever read Beckett and you’ve also read Lincoln in the Bardo, I’m sure you see what I’m talking about. I’m not a fan of Beckett at all so the similarities in the writing were not great for me.

Honestly, I’m not sure what more there is to say! I thought that the writing itself was well done. It’s just that this style of novels doesn’t particularly work for me. But considering the accolades that the book has been getting, I can tell I’m one of the few who sees it this way so don’t let this review deter you from reading it if you’re interested in it!

Felicia x

Review: Daisy Jones & the Six - Taylor Jenkins Reid

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“I had absolutely no interest in being somebody else’s muse. I am not a muse. I am the somebody.”

My Rating: ★★★★★

Genre(s): Historical Fiction (1970s), Fiction, Adult Fiction

Reading Challenge: 12 out of 35

Goodreads Synopsis —

Everyone knows Daisy Jones & The Six, but nobody knows the reason behind their split at the absolute height of their popularity . . . until now.

Daisy is a girl coming of age in L.A. in the late sixties, sneaking into clubs on the Sunset Strip, sleeping with rock stars, and dreaming of singing at the Whisky a Go Go. The sex and drugs are thrilling, but it’s the rock and roll she loves most. By the time she’s twenty, her voice is getting noticed, and she has the kind of heedless beauty that makes people do crazy things.

Also getting noticed is The Six, a band led by the brooding Billy Dunne. On the eve of their first tour, his girlfriend Camila finds out she’s pregnant, and with the pressure of impending fatherhood and fame, Billy goes a little wild on the road.

Daisy and Billy cross paths when a producer realizes that the key to supercharged success is to put the two together. What happens next will become the stuff of legend.

The making of that legend is chronicled in this riveting and unforgettable novel, written as an oral history of one of the biggest bands of the seventies. Taylor Jenkins Reid is a talented writer who takes her work to a new level with Daisy Jones & The Six, brilliantly capturing a place and time in an utterly distinctive voice.

My Thoughts —

You know when you pick up a book, read the first couple chapters, and just know you’re in for something good? That was this book.

Daisy Jones & The Six has easily become my favourite book of the year so far. It’s so exciting, and multidimensional, and just absolutely fascinating. I love ‘70s music so much. Some of my favourite bands and artists are from the ‘70s, including Fleetwood Mac. So when I started reading this, I immediately noticed the similarities between Daisy Jones and Stevie Nicks, and I think that made it all the more interesting for me.

I really liked how the book started off by already telling you that the band would break-up and when. You knew that the whole book would be a culmination of the tensions which would lead to this massive split in Chicago. I thought that was pretty interesting as then I spent the rest of the book trying to guess who or what would break-up the band. There was a lot of problems for and amongst the band members, so it was a massive guessing game trying to figure out what would be their ultimate demise!

There are so many topics covered in this novel. Overall, it’s about a band making music, bumping heads, and then eventually breaking up. But underneath it all, there’s addiction, love, heartbreak, family, grief, loss, abuse, abortion, and feminism. All wrapped up into one. The author touches on all these topics, weaving them into the storyline and using them to explain why the characters behave in certain ways. Everyone has a story behind their shiny surface. It was particularly interesting how when, for example, the author would have a character describe some event from the tour that shaped their lives forever, the other characters wouldn’t even know it ever happened. It goes to show how you can see someone every single day and think you know everything about that person, but you really don’t know them at all.

I absolutely believe this needs to be adapted into a film or a limited TV series. It’s all set up to be a mockumentary and the album lyrics are there, just waiting to have music added to them and be turned into an incredible soundtrack. It just seems to perfect to not be adapted. Plus, it’s a fairly original concept, different from the typical things you read or watch. Above all, I need the soundtrack to this more than I need air.

CW: drugs/addiction, abortion, abuse

Felicia x

Review: The Quintland Sisters - Shelley Wood

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My Rating: ★★★★

Genre(s): Historical Fiction (1930s), Fiction, Adult Fiction

Reading Challenge: 9 out of 35

Goodreads Synopsis —

In Shelley Wood’s fiction debut, readers are taken inside the devastating true story of the Dionne Quintuplets, told from the perspective of one young woman who meets them at the moment of their birth.

Reluctant midwife Emma Trimpany is just 17 when she assists at the harrowing birth of the Dionne quintuplets: five tiny miracles born to French farmers in hardscrabble Northern Ontario in 1934. Emma cares for them through their perilous first days and when the government decides to remove the babies from their francophone parents, making them wards of the British king, Emma signs on as their nurse.

Over 6,000 daily visitors come to ogle the identical “Quints” playing in their custom-built playground; at the height of the Great Depression, the tourism and advertising dollars pour in. While the rest of the world delights in their sameness, Emma sees each girl as unique: Yvonne, Annette, Cécile, Marie, and Émilie. With her quirky eye for detail, Emma records every strange twist of events in her private journals.

As the fight over custody and revenues turns increasingly explosive, Emma is torn between the fishbowl sanctuary of Quintland and the wider world, now teetering on the brink of war. Steeped in research, Quintland is a novel of love, heartache, resilience, and enduring sisterhood—a fictional, coming-of-age story bound up in one of the strangest true tales of the past century.

My Thoughts —

So I first learned about the Dionne quintuplets in a women’s history course in university. If you’re not familiar with the case (which you probably aren’t), basically in the 1930s, a woman in Ontario, Canada gave birth to quintuplets. Her and her husband were poor, lived in a farmhouse without electricity, and already had a number of children. Having quintuplets was extremely rare in that time. What was more rare was that all five babies, born two months premature, survived infancy. Shortly after Elzire Dionne gave birth, a doctor named Allan Roy Dafoe who effectively took control over the babies and even created a hospital and nursery nearby where the girls grew up for many years, with a viewing window through which visitors could watch them play (no, I’m not joking). They were massively exploited, used to sell products and advice to mothers. It was all crazy and honestly pretty gross.

This novel is highly fictionalized, which I think is the most important aspect to be pointed out in this review. Please don’t go into reading this novel with expectations of an honest representation of the controversy of the early lives of the Dionne quints, ‘cause you ain’t going to find it here. What you will find, however, is a pretty basic idea of the quintuplets’ story and an entertaining historical fiction about a little bit of Canadian history. Hurray for Canadian representation! We get so little of it, honestly.

The story’s lead character and narrator, Emma Trimpany, is a fictional character who was portrayed as a nurse to the girls in their first few years. Her story is told through diary entries and letters, which I think was an interesting and effective way to format the novel. I think for the most part, this story focuses on Emma’s life rather than the story of the quints. I mean, the quints are a major aspect of the story, however, it’s more about Emma’s personal growth, I believe. At the beginning of the novel, she’s this extremely naive, sort of lost young girl, and her time working with the quints forces her to mature and face some really terrible aspects of the real world.

All in all, it was an entertaining story! I think it was a good story about a piece of Canadian history, with the backdrop of the pre-WWII years. But in terms of being a good fictional retelling of the Dionne quints specifically… meh.

Had you heard of the Dionne quintuplets before?

Felicia x

Review: My Life on the Road - Gloria Steinem

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“If you travel long enough, every story becomes a novel.”

My Rating: ★★★★

Genre(s): Non-Fiction, Feminism, Memoir, Biography

Reading Challenge: 8 out of 35

Goodreads Synopsis —

Gloria Steinem—writer, activist, organizer, and one of the most inspiring leaders in the world—now tells a story she has never told before, a candid account of how her early years led her to live an on-the-road kind of life, traveling, listening to people, learning, and creating change. She reveals the story of her own growth in tandem with the growth of an ongoing movement for equality. This is the story at the heart of My Life on the Road.

My Thoughts —

Last term, I took a Women’s History course in uni which focused on the women’s social movements in North America from the late 19th century to the early 21st century. The content of the course got me really into feminism. I mean, I was already a feminist prior to, but it sort of ignited in me a desire to learn more about the efforts of women in these movements. So I have set myself on a mission to read more books - fiction and non-fiction - by female authors, about female stories.

My Life on the Road is a book that I’ve wanted to read for a while, but didn’t really know much about. I just knew that a) it was apparently a great book, and b) Gloria Steinem was a feminist. Now that I’ve actually read the book, I’ve looked into Gloria Steinem more and am completely blown away with all the activism she has done for the majority of her life. She has spoken up on a ton of issues pertaining to women and equality, and has advocated for women’s control over their own bodies. Truly, she’s inspirational.

I was completely in awe of Gloria’s stories. This is a woman who has literally lived on the road. She has seen so much, experienced things that most people never will. And most of what she has seen was in most American’s backyard - they just haven’t bothered to look for it. I think one of the main messages I took from this book was that there is a whole world out there. There’s so much to see and do and, most importantly, there’s people living lives we could never fathom. We need to seek these things out. Spending our whole lives in a tiny, isolated corner of the world isn’t living at all.

Have you read Gloria Steinem’s book? What were your thoughts?

Felicia x

Review: Emma - Jane Austen

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“I may have lost my heart, but not my self-control.”

My Rating: ★★★★

Genre(s): Classics, Fiction, Romance

Reading Challenge: 7 out of 35

Goodreads Synopsis —

‘I wonder what will become of her!’

So speculate the friends and neighbours of Emma Woodhouse, the lovely, lively, wilful, and fallible heroine of Jane Austen's fourth published novel. Confident that she knows best, Emma schemes to find a suitable husband for her pliant friend Harriet, only to discover that she understands the feelings of others as little as she does her own heart. As Emma puzzles and blunders her way through the mysteries of her social world, Austen evokes for her readers a cast of unforgettable characters and a detailed portrait of a small town undergoing historical transition. 

My Thoughts —

This was the final Jane Austen novel that I read for my third year Austen course in uni last term. As I had literally a million things to do by the time my exam rolled around, I never got to finish reading Emma before the exam and left something like 50 pages for myself to read after I came back from winter break. (In case you’re wondering, I did well on the final!). Well, procrastination at its finest, I didn’t get around to finishing this until mid-February.

Emma is easily one of my favourite Austen novels, now that I’ve gone and read them all (but Persuasion). I really hadn’t heard much about Emma before, as it's not one of the more talked-about Austen novels, at least not in the way of Pride and Prejudice or Sense and Sensibility. It’s sort of underrated in that regard. I found it to be wonderful.

Emma is an unlikeable character in a few ways. She’s petty, naive, and extremely selfish. She tries to control situations so that they benefit her, which is clear through her convincing her best friend not to marry a man she so obviously is attracted to because Emma looks down upon his social-standing. But I think beneath it all, she does have a good heart and good intentions as well. Throughout the novel, she does the necessary learning to grow as a person which I think is incredibly important. And honestly, it makes for a better story.

In terms of the story itself, I think this is such a perfect example of Jane Austen’s wit. I love the humour in this novel!!!! I find that some of her novels, like Northanger Abbey, don’t really hit the mark for the wit that she’s known for - and that made me love her writing. This one, however, is so clever and just downright funny. Never in a million years would I have thought I’d be saying I was giggling while reading a book that was written in the 1800s haha. But, here we are!

In case anyone’s curious, my ranking of the Austen novels (excluding Persuasion) is as follows:

1. Pride and Prejudice

2. Sense and Sensibility/Emma

3. Northanger Abbey

4. Mansfield Park

What do you think about Emma? In your opinion, is it one of Austen’s best novels?

Felicia x

Review: The Royal We - Heather Cocks & Jessica Morgan

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“I fell in love with a person, not a prince; the rest is just circumstance.”

My Rating: ★★★★

Genre(s): Romance, Fiction, Women’s Fiction, Contemporary

Reading Challenge: 6 out of 35

Goodreads Synopsis —

American Rebecca Porter was never one for fairy tales. Her twin sister, Lacey, has always been the romantic who fantasized about glamour and royalty, fame and fortune. Yet it's Bex who seeks adventure at Oxford and finds herself living down the hall from Prince Nicholas, Great Britain's future king. And when Bex can't resist falling for Nick, the person behind the prince, it propels her into a world she did not expect to inhabit, under a spotlight she is not prepared to face.

Dating Nick immerses Bex in ritzy society, dazzling ski trips, and dinners at Kensington Palace with him and his charming, troublesome brother, Freddie. But the relationship also comes with unimaginable baggage: hysterical tabloids, Nick's sparkling and far more suitable ex-girlfriends, and a royal family whose private life is much thornier and more tragic than anyone on the outside knows. The pressures are almost too much to bear, as Bex struggles to reconcile the man she loves with the monarch he's fated to become.

Which is how she gets into trouble.

Now, on the eve of the wedding of the century, Bex is faced with whether everything she's sacrificed for love-her career, her home, her family, maybe even herself-will have been for nothing.

My Thoughts —

Warning: prepare yourselves for what might be my longest review yet!

If you know me, you know I’m massively into the British royal family. Or any royal family, for that matter. It’s not that I feel some intense loyalty to the royals, although I do think that as a Canadian, you sort of have an inherent respect for the monarch anyway. No, I just find monarchical rule utterly fascinating, especially now in the 2010s. It’s all so glamorous and yet you know how unglamorous it all truly is. It’s wild to me that as a society, we get so wrapped up in the romanticization of royalty. How we wake up in the middle of the night to watch Princes William and Harry get married, we follow their lives through the Internet or newspapers, we cling to their every move - even those of us who aren’t fans of the royals. And most of all, we all secretly want to know what exactly is going on behind the gates of the palace.

The Royal We actually bring us behind those gates and into the darkest, grittiest shadows of the palace. Mind you, it’s not quite the Windsors but it’s as close as any of us will probably ever get at guessing what their version of reality is.

I think this book’s cover alone tells a lot about our fascination with the royal family. Just by glancing at the cover, you recognize the faceless figures as William and Kate. Easily, too. Anyone who has seen anything about the 2011 wedding would recognize Kate’s gorgeous bridal gown and William’s scarlet uniform. The novel closely replicates the story of William and Kate, however with succinct differences. Namely that Bex - our novel’s complicated heroine - is an American student who has a hell-raising twin sister.

I completely devoured this book. It was dishy and romantic, including just the right combination of royal tradition and modern-day elements to make it realistic. In the past century, royals have truly become celebrities rather than divine rulers, and the authors really incorporated that cultural change. There isn’t a moment of Bex’s life with Nick, the handsome English prince, where she isn’t a subject of the nation’s fascination - and criticisms. I think the pressure of the paparazzi on Bex was hugely important, as that is a very real aspect of the lives of the women who have recently become romantically involved with the royals, from Diana to Kate and now Meghan.

One of the things I thought was most well-done was the timeline. The novel stretches over quite a long period of time, much like the real-life love story of William and Kate did. It follows the main characters through their final years of university, to their early adulthood and then to their mid-to-late twenties. For a novel that’s under 500 pages, it was an ambitious move but I think the authors nailed it! I was pleasantly surprised in that regard. I didn’t find it stretched on too long, or that it was choppy, or anything. It flowed very well and kept me captivated the whole way along.

The ending really took me by surprise. I won’t give anything away, but I didn’t see the ending coming and I’m not sure how I feel about it. I think it was effective but I’m not sure it’s the kind of ending I expect or prefer in a novel. It didn’t quite tie up the strings well enough for me. But for another reader, I think it’d be the perfect sort of ending.

Are you a fan of the royal family?

Felicia x

Review: The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo - Taylor Jenkins Reid

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“Don’t ignore half of me so you can fit me into a box.”

My Rating: ★★★★

Genre(s): Historical Fiction (20th c.), Fiction, Contemporary, Adult Fiction

Reading Challenge: 5 out of 35

Goodreads Synopsis —

Reclusive Hollywood icon Evelyn Hugo is finally ready to tell the truth about her glamorous and scandalous life. But when she chooses unknown magazine reporter Monique Grant to write her story, no one is more astounded than Monique herself. 

Determined to use this opportunity to jumpstart her career, Monique listens in fascination. From making her way to Los Angeles in the 1950s to her decision to leave show business in the ‘80s - and, of course, the seven husbands along the way - Evelyn unspools a tale of ruthless ambition, unexpected friendship, and a great forbidden love. But as Evelyn’s story near its conclusion, it becomes clear that her life intersects with Monique’s own in tragic and irreversible ways.

Written with Reid's signature talent for creating "complex, likeable characters" (Real Simple), this is a mesmerizing journey through the splendour of Old Hollywood into the sobering realities of the present day as two women struggle with what it means - and what it costs - to face the truth.

My Thoughts —

I loved this book!!

So first and foremost, I love how Taylor Jenkins Reid made me believe in the story. Often, I had to remind myself that it was a fictional story and that Evelyn Hugo wasn’t actually an actress. I got incredibly invested in Evelyn’s story. But, interestingly, I was extremely conflicted in how I felt about her character. I loved her and I hated her. I was rooting for her and simultaneously not. She was a massively complex character which made her that much more interesting. If she’d been wholly good, there wouldn’t have been much of a story haha.

One of the only aspects of this novel that fell a bit short for me was Monique’s storyline. Honestly, I find that dual narratives are really a hit-or-miss for me. In some cases, the dual narrative is really well done. However, this one didn’t really do it for me. I found that Monique’s storyline was sort of lacking. She has a little bit of a plot twist in the end, a surprise element that kind of brings the stories of the two ladies together, but I found that throughout the first 3 quarters of the story, I didn’t really care about Monique’s story. She seemed more like a vessel for Evelyn’s story. I think this was especially a problem because her chapters were only a few pages filled with prompts for Evelyn’s story.

All in all, this was a really incredible novel. Everyone was talking about how good it was for awhile (which is why I picked it up), I can honestly say that I believe it lived up to the hype.

Have you read it yet? Do you think it lives up the hype?

Felicia x

Review: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban - J.K. Rowling

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“I solemnly swear that I am up to no good.”

My Rating: ★★★★

Genre(s): Fantasy, Young Adult, Fiction

Reading Challenge: 4 out of 35

Goodreads Synopsis —

Harry Potter's third year at Hogwarts is full of new dangers. A convicted murderer, Sirius Black, has broken out of Azkaban prison, and it seems he's after Harry. Now Hogwarts is being patrolled by the dementors, the Azkaban guards who are hunting Sirius. But Harry can't imagine that Sirius or, for that matter, the evil Lord Voldemort could be more frightening than the dementors themselves, who have the terrible power to fill anyone they come across with aching loneliness and despair. Meanwhile, life continues as usual at Hogwarts. A top-of-the-line broom takes Harry's success at Quidditch, the sport of the Wizarding world, to new heights. A cute fourth-year student catches his eye. And he becomes close with the new Defense of the Dark Arts teacher, who was a childhood friend of his father. Yet despite the relative safety of life at Hogwarts and the best efforts of the dementors, the threat of Sirius Black grows ever closer. But if Harry has learned anything from his education in wizardry, it is that things are often not what they seem. Tragic revelations, heartwarming surprises, and high-stakes magical adventures await the boy wizard in this funny and poignant third installment of the beloved series.

My Thoughts —

It feels very odd to be reviewing a Harry Potter book. I actually debated whether or not I was going to go ahead with this review at all. Technically, yes, I did read it this year and it will be counted towards my annual reading goal. But I’ve read it quite a few times and it just feels weird to be reviewing a book that I haven’t read for the first time in, what, 15 years?? Well, here we are. I’m doing it anyway!

For as long as I can remember, Prisoner of Azkaban has been my favourite book. Disclaimer: I haven’t read the full Harry Potter series since I was like 9 or 10 years old, so my opinions might have changed now (I’ll let you know once I re-read it all!). I still see why I loved it so much as a kid. Unlike the first couple books, which are obviously geared towards young children, Prisoner of Azkaban starts to delve into the older YA category, at least in my opinion. I think it’s not really until around Order of the Phoenix or Half-Blood Prince that the books go fully into mature themes, if memory serves me right. At this point, there is a serious plot line throughout the novel, but you still get a lot of that cozy, Hogwarts everyday magic that makes the books so warm and endearing for me.

A huge part I love - and have always loved - about this book is the introduction of the Marauders. I love that storyline so much. Much like pretty much everybody, I would have loved to read a spin-off series that focused on that Marauders in their Hogwarts years. Is there still hope for this to happen?! God I hope so, lol. I have a soft spot for Remus, always have, as I think he was a really important male figure for Harry throughout the series, especially after Order of the Phoenix (no spoilers just in case any of you have not read the series yet).

I just find it so interesting to go back and reread the series as an adult, as it’s such a different experience from when I was young but still, the magic of it is still alive in the words. I’ve been very slowly making my way through the series, but I hope to get through at least a few of them this year!

Is Prisoner of Azkaban your favourite? If not, which Harry Potter book is your favourite?

Felicia x

Review: Dumplin' - Julie Murphy

“I guess sometimes the perfection we perceive in others is made up of a whole bunch of tiny imperfections, because some days the damn dress just won’t zip.”

My Rating: ★★★★

Genre(s): Young Adult, Contemporary, Romance, Fiction

Reading Challenge: 3 out of 35

Goodreads Synopsis —

Self-proclaimed fat girl Willowdean Dickson (dubbed “Dumplin’” by her former beauty queen mom) has always been at home in her own skin. Her thoughts on having the ultimate bikini body? Put a bikini on your body. With her all-American beauty best friend, Ellen, by her side, things have always worked…until Will takes a job at Harpy’s, the local fast-food joint. There she meets Private School Bo, a hot former jock. Will isn’t surprised to find herself attracted to Bo. But she is surprised when he seems to like her back.

Instead of finding new heights of self-assurance in her relationship with Bo, Will starts to doubt herself. So she sets out to take back her confidence by doing the most horrifying thing she can imagine: entering the Miss Clover City beauty pageant—along with several other unlikely candidates—to show the world that she deserves to be up there as much as any twiggy girl does. Along the way, she’ll shock the hell out of Clover City—and maybe herself most of all.

With starry Texas nights, red candy suckers, Dolly Parton songs, and a wildly unforgettable heroine—Dumplin’ is guaranteed to steal your heart.

My Thoughts —

I’m a sucker for a good fluffy romance. (New drinking game: take a shot whenever I say that in a review).

Last December, I saw that the film adaptation of Dumplin’ had been put onto Netflix and because I have no impulse control, I watched it before reading the book. Big literary no-no, I know. But here we are. I really enjoyed the film but I had to wait until after final exams to read the book. So, finally, I got to read it and no shock, it’s SO much better than the film.

Dumplin’ has all the key elements of a great YA romance: an authentic female lead, a dreamy love interest, a complicated but enduring friendship, and of course, Dolly Parton, hero to all. To be honest, Dumplin’ really hit the mark for me. It pulled me in, got me invested in all the characters, and it just seemed authentic to me. I believed that these characters could be real teenagers, which I find is really difficult for some YA authors to capture perfectly. Being not so far off from a teen, I can still understand teen characters fairly well. Mind you, I feel like every day I feel less and less connected to teens these days lol.

I really liked how this book strayed from the reliance on stereotypes like a lot of YA novels do. Not only in terms of Willowdean, either. I thought it was really interesting that Bo could have easily been made into another mysterious, handsome, obnoxious private school kid. But instead, they made him into a multifaceted character. They also avoided having Willowdean desperately chase after Bo to the point that pining over him would be her only personality trait (I’m sure this sounds familiar). In fact, Bo actually chased Willowdean throughout the book. Willowdean is a strong, complex character with ambitions and goals, who happens to also have a crush on a boy. And I loved that about her.

Did you like the movie adaptation or the book better?

Felicia x

Review: The Sun Does Shine - Anthony Ray Hinton

“Everything, I realized, is a choice. And spending your days waiting to die is no way to live.”

My Rating: ★★★★★

Genre(s): Non-Fiction, Memoir, Biography, True Crime

Reading Challenge: 2 out of 35

Goodreads Synopsis —

Anthony Ray Hinton was poor and black when he was convicted of two murders he hadn't committed. For the next three decades he was trapped in solitary confinement in a tiny cell on death row, having to watch as - one by one - his fellow prisoners were taken past him to the execution room. Eventually his case was taken up by the award-winning lawyer, Bryan Stevenson, who managed to have him exonerated, though it took 15 years for this to happen. Since his release, other high-profile supporters have included Richard Branson, Mark Zuckerberg and Amal Clooney.

How did Hinton cope with the mental and emotional torture of his situation, and emerge full of compassion and forgiveness? The Sun Does Shine throws light not only on his remarkable personality but also on social deprivation and miscarriages of justice. Ultimately, though, it's a triumphant story of the resilience of the human spirit.

My Thoughts —

As soon as I heard about this book, I wanted to read it. I immediately added it to my TBR and then at my first chance, I went out to hunt for it in the shop. (I actually ended up getting it on sale, thanks Books-A-Million!).

I was shocked that it could be possible that someone could not only be wrongfully convicted, but put on death row for decades. Even more so, his positivity astonished me. If it were me, I would be miserable as I’m sure many others would be. But Anthony Ray Hinton managed to get through it with his head high and full of optimism. He spread light to the other prisoners and honestly made me completely reconsider my perception of the prison system.

I was completely inspired by Anthony Ray Hinton’s story. It made me really reconsider my own position in life and be grateful for my privileges. Ray was imprisoned simply because he was poor and black - we can’t let the world fail people like Ray anymore.

Felicia x

Review: Women Talking - Miriam Toews

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“When our men have used us up so that we look sixty when we’re thirty and our wombs have literally dropped out of our bodies onto our spotless kitchen floors, finished, they turn to our daughters.”

My Rating: ★★★★

Genre(s): Fiction, Feminism, Contemporary, Cultural (Fiction)

Reading Challenge: 1 out of 35

Goodreads Synopsis —

One evening, eight Mennonite women climb into a hay loft to conduct a secret meeting. For the past two years, each of these women, and more than a hundred other girls in their colony, has been repeatedly violated in the night by demons coming to punish them for their sins. Now that the women have learned they were in fact drugged and attacked by a group of men from their own community, they are determined to protect themselves and their daughters from future harm.

While the men of the colony are off in the city, attempting to raise enough money to bail out the rapists and bring them home, these women—all illiterate, without any knowledge of the world outside their community and unable even to speak the language of the country they live in—have very little time to make a choice: Should they stay in the only world they’ve ever known or should they dare to escape?

Based on real events and told through the “minutes” of the women’s all-female symposium, Toews’s masterful novel uses wry, politically engaged humour to relate this tale of women claiming their own power to decide.

My Thoughts —

1. Do nothing. 2. Stay and fight. 3. Leave. Which one do they choose?

Wow. Just, wow. I have so many thoughts about this novel. There literally aren’t enough words. Or, maybe, just not the right words, to describe it perfectly.

While this is a fictional novel, it’s definitely important to note that the plot was based on the very real events that happened in Bolivia in the 2000s. What happened to these women - the fictional ones and the real ones - is absolutely horrific and appalling. But their bravery in the aftermath of these events is completely incredible.

It was absolutely shocking to me how strong the women in this story were. Not that I don’t think women are strong enough to deal with tough situations, but that I could not even fathom how I could be able to handle the situation if it were me. The women were terrified, of course, but were concerned more about their families, their children, and their loved ones than themselves. It was also horrifying to me, first of all, how they were conditioned to think that they deserved nothing better than the lives they were living, and second of all, they were faced with the dilemma of staying put in the most horrific conditions possible or leave but have no knowledge of the world outside their community. They were uneducated, unable to fend for themselves, and couldn’t even speak the language of their country. Just the thought of it all makes me shudder.

I can’t even begin to say how deeply this book affected me. I had honestly no idea how hard this book was going to hit me. Although, going off the description, I knew it was going to be a difficult read. I will say that a lot of the content, particularly the descriptions of the rape, is extremely difficult to get through. If you’re somebody who finds it painful to It’s awful to think how some of the women thought they had no choice but to obey the men of their community - the same men who have drugged and raped them and their daughters - because they have no options or even education. My heart ached for them and for the women who went through the real experience years ago.

If you’ve been on the fence about getting this book, here’s your sign: go buy it. It’s well worth the read and will definitely get your mind running. It’s interesting (and scary) to try to put yourself in their shoes while you read. What would you do if it were you in their place?

Felicia x

Review: Beartown - Fredrik Backman

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“Everyone has a thousand wishes before a tragedy, but just one afterward.”

My Rating: ★★★★★

Genre(s): Fiction, Contemporary

Reading Challenge: 37 out of 50

Goodreads Synopsis —

People say Beartown is finished. A tiny community nestled deep in the forest, it is slowly losing ground to the ever encroaching trees. But down by the lake stands an old ice rink, built generations ago by the working men who founded this town. And in that ice rink is the reason people in Beartown believe tomorrow will be better than today. Their junior ice hockey team is about to compete in the national semi-finals, and they actually have a shot at winning. All the hopes and dreams of this place now rest on the shoulders of a handful of teenage boys.

Being responsible for the hopes of an entire town is a heavy burden, and the semi-final match is the catalyst for a violent act that will leave a young girl traumatized and a town in turmoil. Accusations are made and, like ripples on a pond, they travel through all of Beartown, leaving no resident unaffected.

Beartown explores the hopes that bring a small community together, the secrets that tear it apart, and the courage it takes for an individual to go against the grain. In this story of a small forest town, Fredrik Backman has found the entire world.

My Thoughts —

It’s not very often that I give a book a 5-star review. I’m the type of person who can be a tad too generous with throwing around 5-stars, even if a book doesn’t fully deserve it, so I try to be a bit more critical and put more thought into my ratings these days. That being said, Beartown deserved every point on each and every one of these five stars - and more.

It’s pretty funny, in hindsight, how much I loved this book because when I bought it, I had the wrong idea about what it’s about. Like completely wrong. I thought it was just a feel-good novel about a small town that rallies together to help their local hockey team with the championship game. Yes, there’s a hockey team. Yes, they’re from a small town, that does support them fully. But that’s where the similarities end. There’s so much more of a complex storyline to this book that I couldn’t even begin to describe without giving away all the suspenseful bits that made it so enjoyable to read.

The writing is what initially gripped me. Fredrik Backman knows what he’s doing, that’s for certain. The first few pages completely engulfed me in intrigue and excitement. I wanted to know what would happen. I wanted to devour this book in a day. Unfortunately, it took me a month to read because of finals and Christmas events. I was constantly itching to get back to reading this novel. Apparently, it wasn’t even originally written in English. That just blows me away. Not a lot of novels translate well, but this one definitely did.

Honestly, if I were to only recommend one book that I read in 2018, it would be Beartown.

Have you read Beartown? Did you love it as much as I did?

Felicia x

Review: Love & War - Melissa De La Cruz

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“We will only stand if we learn to accept and even embrace each other’s differences rather than allow them to divide us.”

My Rating: ★★★

Genre(s): Historical Fiction (American Revolution), Young Adult, Romance

Reading Challenge: 32 out of 50

Goodreads Synopsis —

As the war for American Independence carries on, two newlyweds are settling into their new adventure: marriage. But the honeymoon's over, and Alexander Hamilton and Eliza Schuyler are learning firsthand just how tricky wedded life can be. Alex is still General George Washington's right-hand man and his attention these days is nothing if not divided--much like the colonies' interests as the end of the Revolution draws near. Alex & Eliza's relationship is tested further by lingering jealousies and family drama.

My Thoughts —

If you haven’t read my review of the first book in this trilogy, go ahead and give that a read here first!

I’m gonna come right out and say it. I didn’t enjoy this book as much as I enjoyed the first book, Alex & Eliza. I felt like this took a really different approach to the Hamiltons’ story than I was expecting. I get that it’s a YA series, so it may not deal with a lot of the more mature themes of their marriage (i.e. death, infidelity, etc.). But it just seemed a bit too light-hearted, if that makes sense? Even the conflicts they faced seemed to be solved almost immediately. It just seemed like they were living their own fairytale which, if you know the true history, you’ll know is not realistic.

I really hope that the final book of the trilogy, All For One (which is scheduled to be published in spring 2019) will be closer to the Hamiltons’ story. I just found that this novel was a lot more fiction than it was historical fiction. Sort of like Reign, but maybe even more far-fetched?

Have you read Love & War? What did you think?

Felicia x