[637]: Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys

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Salt to the Sea

by Ruta Sepetys


Books about wars from any period tend to leave a lasting effect on me. Stories about the struggle, the hunger, the pain, and anger stay longer than I’d care to admit. Mostly, I’m overcome with admiration to the characters; it had me thinking about how I could never have survived  had I lived in that era. I’m particularly drawn to stories about World War II. Two years ago, I was completely enamored with Kate Atkinson’s Life After Life and Michael Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See. Then, last year, I discovered Anthony Marra’s A Constellation of Vital Phenomena; it’s not set in the same time period, but just as affecting regardless. It was a book set during the Chechen war. But these books have one thing in common: they were written by authors who has an uncanny ability to transform horrific tales into something beautiful. Salt to the Sea was no different.

Book Description

Winter, 1945. Four teenagers. Four secrets. Each one born of a different homeland; each one haunted by tragedy, lies…and war. As thousands of desperate refugees flock to the coast in the midst of a Soviet advance, four paths converge, vying for passage aboard the Wilhelm Gustloff, a ship that promises safety and freedom. Yet not all promises can be kept.

One of the reasons that I enjoy reading books in this genre is that it affords me  the opportunity to learn something. Before starting this, I knew nothing about Wilhelm Gustloff or the “Amber Room”. After I wiped the snot dripping off my nose, I took to the trusty Wikipedia and did a bit of side reading.  It did indeed happen. For a moment or two, I felt the same indignance Ms. Sepetys felt for the way we’ve dismissed this disaster. We certainly haven’t given it the same reverence as we do the Titanic. And I know it’s tough considering who were on the ship to begin with. But we need to remember that they were mostly refugees and victims of war and that they, too, deserve to be remembered.

Reading historical fiction is not always going to be an easy read. More often, they tend to be heavy on the narrative and dry. Salt to the Sea is not the kind of historical fiction, however. Sepetys’ writing has a one-sitting type of reading quality. The pacing was swift and not at all inundated by the four-person points of view.  She set up the novel in such a way that readers would have a heavy weight on their chests, ominously waiting for that looming heartbreak.  There was sporadic humor that felt out of place, but I felt was necessary. It made the story even more endearing.

And of course, the characters. Oh, these lovely characters! They were full of life, and love. Despite the hopelessness of their situation, this motley crew was one of the most compelling band of characters I’ve read in a long time. They looked out for each other, bonded by the will to survive.  There were romance and stories of their lives before the war.  They were heartbreaking, poignant and gorgeous – but mostly, sad. Box of tissues required.

 

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[629]: Pillars of Light by Jane Johnson

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Pillars of Light

by Jane Johnson


Double Day Canada          January 5th, 2016             3 out of 5 Stars    Historical Fiction


Jane Johnson’s Pillars of Light has been compared to likes of Diana Gabaldon’s books. For what reason, I don’t really know. Perhaps it’s the historical setting, or the writing even. Whatever it is, I felt the same way about Gabaldon’s books as I did Johnson’s: a visceral disconnection with the events taking place, and the general lack of empathy towards the characters.

Pillars of Light is – essentially – a two books in one type of reads. Set in the time of the Crusades, it tells the story of a Jewish doctor and a Muslim woman’s forbidden love affair. Zorah’s loyalty was to her family first and foremost. And while Nathanael’s parents were of liberal beliefs, they worried that their son constantly flirted with danger every time they meet.

On the other side of the globe, a group of miscreants traveled through Europe, duping Christendom of their money by selling faux religious artifacts while recruiting crusaders along the way. All in the name of Christ. I was fully vested to see the stories through. I wanted to see how they would intersect. To my disappointment, however, I found that the thread was very long, very fragile and very thin.

Jane Johnson wrote the struggle, the hunger, the disease brought by warfare with efficacy. For that, she was a wiz. She also showed how dangerous a relationship between Muslim and a Jew could be with every clandestine meeting Zorah and Nat ever had. In the meantime, John Savage and The Moor of the Traveling Crooks had an implied love affair that was barely explored. I must admit that both stories could’ve been better explored, better represented. It was always on the cusp of being great but sadly fell short. It lacked the emotions necessary for a reader to feel the connection – to the characters, to the stories.

However, if you are familiar with the history of Crusades, you might recognize some events that took place. Unfortunately, my knowledge of this war was relegated to Ridley Scott’s Kingdom of Heaven. I did find it very helpful because the movie depicted a Sultan who forgave the invaders and allowed them to leave Jerusalem on their free will, as it did in the beginning of the book.

All in all, even though I didn’t fully appreciate Jane Johnson’s relative interpretation of particular events in the Crusades, I saw how important it is to her to give such a barbaric event a human perspective. The romance helped a bit, but I missed the connection between Zorah and Nat’s romance and the story of the Traveling Crooks. As a reader, I know I’m at fault when I focused more on the romance rather than the opportunity to learn more about a part of the History which, arguably, began the difficult relationship between Muslims and the world as we know it. And for that, I feel the need to apologize. 

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[616]: The Dark Days Club by Alison Goodman

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While I’ve been a fan of reading Romance in Regency London, there is something about this kind of London I’m not too enthused about: Evil lurking in the dark alleys, soul-sucking demons on the prowl, and a secret society tasked to stop this darkness from spreading. While that may sound enjoyable to some, I found my attention straying a number of times whilst in the cusp of this 496-page tome from Alison Goodman.

All told, I was bored. There was no sense of urgency given the severity of what was facing this exclusive club (and the world for that matter). Steampunk has never been my strong suit. And since you can taste a bit of that in this book, it added to the overwhelming feeling of ennui. The story moved in the most sluggish pace that I could tolerate. I kept hoping that there would be something great to look forward to around the bend, but everything was irritatingly flaccid and predictable. There were no valleys or peaks. Even the confrontations between Reclaimers and Deceivers fell in a resounding thud.

If you’re looking for any romance, it might be best if you look somewhere else. The characters held no personality whatsoever, and at times, the tensions between Lady Helen and Lord Carlston seemed forced. I admire the struggle that Lady Helen went through in order to make a decision on what she needed to do, but it took her forever and a day to come to a conclusion. Her waffling didn’t help any either.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I’m so glad I don’t live in that time when I’m expected to be subversive, mild-mannered and dependent on the menfolk. I probably would’ve ended up in the dungeon if it were the case.

REASONS TO READ THE DARK DAYS CLUB

  • If you’re a fan of Regency London.
  • If you like reading about demons and the secret society that can defeat them.
  • If you wouldn’t mind waiting for a heroine to come into her powers (which might happen in the next book because she was sorely disappointing in this one).
  • If you like slow burn romance.
  • If you enjoy steampunk(ish) reads.

    GOODREADS SUMMARY | Viking Books for Young Readers | January 26th, 2016 | Chapters | Amazon


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[599]: In the Unlikely Event by Judy Blume

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I must admit that my initial reaction when I heard that Judy Blume was coming out with a new novel was ecstasy. Imagine being a part of a generation that lives in the same era as beloved as Ms. Blume?  I can only imagine it being a blessing to some. And this from a reader who didn’t grow up reading her books. Her reputation proceeds her. In as much as Margaret Atwood and Stephen King in their respective genres.

This book, however, was not what I’d expected. The biggest obstacle for me was the lack of concise plot direction. The story was about the events that happened back in 50’s when a town in New Jersey was plagued with air disasters. This tells the story of the people that were affected. I would like to argue that Blume didn’t really explore how, though. In fact, it only showed that their lives turned out every which way simply because – well, life. It went on regardless of the tragedies that happened. No one developed a debilitating fear of flying because they witnessed the plane crashes. It is but a story to be told without any consequent reaction to the reader.

Another hindrance was the overwhelming number of narrators that I had a hard time keeping track of. An overpopulation, as it were. It contributed to my disconnection with the story as a whole. Because when everyone vies for my attention, the more I become stingy with affection. I’m a cold-hearted bitch reader, I know. And I feel doubly bad knowing that Ms. Blume practically wrote this novel all her life. I hate reducing a lifetime of work into a badly-written review. But trust me, it’s not my intention at all. Besides, I’m sure I’m only going to be one faint voice amongst Blume’s rejoicers.


In the Unlikely Event is published by Double Day Canada. Published, June 2nd, 2015. 2 stars out of 5. 


 

 

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[566]: The Kommandant’s Girl by Pam Jenoff

18910917 The Kommandant’s Girl by Pam Jenoff
MIRA | Kindle Edition
September 1st, 2011
Historical Fiction | Romance
Rating: 2 out of 5 Stars


Nineteen-year-old Emma Bau has been married only three weeks when Nazi tanks thunder into her native Poland. Within days Emma’s husband, Jacob, is forced to disappear underground, leaving her imprisoned within the city’s decrepit, moldering Jewish ghetto. But then, in the dead of night, the resistance smuggles her out. Taken to Krakow to live with Jacob’s Catholic aunt, Krysia, Emma takes on a new identity as Anna Lipowski, a gentile.

Emma’s already precarious situation is complicated by her introduction to Kommandant Richwalder, a high-ranking Nazi official who hires her to work as his assistant. Urged by the resistance to use her position to access details of the Nazi occupation, Emma must compromise her safety—and her marriage vows—in order to help Jacob’s cause. As the atrocities of war intensify, so does Emma’s relationship with the Kommandant, building to a climax that will risk not only her double life, but also the lives of those she loves.


This is my first Pam Jenoff book. I know very little about the kind of books she puts out other than they’re usually historical romance. I have been attracted to stories where the romance is inherently founded on hate. And there could never be a more contemptuous romance than that of a Jewish girl and a German officer.

Emma Bau has only been married to her husband Jacob for merely six weeks before the Germans invaded Poland. Forced to flee, Jacob severed ties with Emma for her safety. She found herself imprisoned in a commune with her people. There, she saw just the kind of life that was in store for them; where disease and hunger slowly killed them one by one. In the dead of night, she was taken by a member of the resistance to live with Jacob’s aunt. An upstanding Polish citizen who was clandestinely helping Jacob’s cause. Through one of her dinner parties, Emma meets the enigmatic Kommandant Richwalder.  The obvious attraction helped convinced the resistance to recruit Emma to their cause. By working with the kommandant,  she could monitor confidential messages that passed through the kommandant’s desk. As the monstrosity of Hitler intensified, so did the growing relationship between Emma and Richwalder. And she would do anything to help the cause, if only to save those that she loves.

The problem that I have with this book is rooted to the fact that Emma didn’t seem to have given much thought as to who Richwalder was. The instant attraction that she felt didn’t really make that much sense to me. There was no ingrained hatred, mostly passing thoughts where she had to remind herself how many Jewish people where dying in the hands of the Germans such as the kommandant. Other than that, it was instant lust all around.

In Emma’s defence, the kommandant seemed to be cut from a different cloth than those of the other officers. We see flashes of guilt, and distaste for what was going on in his watch. Perhaps that was why it was easy for her to fall into bed with him.

Unfortunately, there wasn’t anything gripping about this book. I did not hold my breath in suspense. She was tasked to retrieve documents that was pertinent to the cause, but the reader never did find out of the consequence of her missions. The most frightening thing that happened here was when she witnessed the pregnant wife of a Rabbi get shot. That was hard to take, but since it happened in the beginning of the novel, the reader had plenty of time to recover. Not that I looked forward to reading the atrocities of the war. I just felt like it was not a good representation of what really happened.

Still, this does not diminish my interest with her books. In fact, I picked up a couple of more in the same vein. I’m looking forward to reading them only to get a better grasp on her story telling. I really hope I’ll like them more than I did with this one.

 

 

 

 

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