Brooklyn

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Author: Colm Toibin
Genres: Historical Fiction
Pub. Date: Apr. 2009 (read Apr. 2021)

I have so many thoughts on this book. I’m not a big movie goer, but I saw Brooklyn in theatres when it came out at the recommendation of a friend and fell in love with the movie. I didn’t even realize it was a book until several years later – but it didn’t have the best reviews on Goodreads, so I decided to give it a pass. About a month ago I stumbled across a copy in a second hand bookstore and decided to revisit the story and give the book a try.

The movie stays very close to the book, so it’s hard to separate one from the other. As reviews suggest, the writing is good, but not great. The author has a very ‘matter of fact’ way of telling the story that can seem a little bland next to some other books. That said, I enjoyed the book a lot more than I thought I would – Toibin is still a good writer, it’s just not the kind of moving writing that you give 5 stars too. Even so, I found the story just as compelling as the movie and flew through it in just 2 days.

In some ways I preferred the book and enjoyed getting Eilis’ internal monologue, but in other ways I thought the movie was stronger. Eilis has an indifference to Tony in the book that doesn’t quite sell this as a love story as strongly as the movie does. The most notable difference for me was the last part of the book when Eilis returns to Ireland. The first three quarters of the movie follow the book almost verbatim, but the story diverges slightly in the last quarter. The ending of the book is almost jarring in its suddenness, but that may be because I was expecting it to continue based on the movie. 

But before I get into the spoiler part of the review, I just want to talk about why I love this story. It may not be 5 star writing, but in my opinion, it’s definitely a 5 star story. Brooklyn is set following WWII, we’re not told the exact year, but based on the setting, others have dated it to the early 1950’s. Eilis grew up in a small town outside Dublin and has spent her whole life in Ireland. She studies book keeping, but as a young adult, she struggles to find meaningful work. Her sister, Rose, makes contact with an Irish priest in New York who offers to sponsor Eilis to America. He arranges her papers and finds her work in a department store and accommodations in a boarding house.

Eilis is overwhelmed with the pace at which the decision is made for her to go to New York and feels she has no other choice. She’s not looking forward to leaving Rose and her mother, but she acknowledges there’s very little for her in Ireland. So she boards a boat to America and settles in an Irish community in Brooklyn. It’s very difficult for her at first and she becomes homesick, but eventually she settles in and starts to build a life for herself. She attends Brooklyn College for book keeping and meets an Italian named Tony who starts to make her feel at home.

I love this story because it is such an accurate portrayal of how it feels to leave home and make your life elsewhere. Even though the story is set in the 1950’s, its a story so many can relate to. I grew up in a small city that has also been heavily influenced by Irish culture and while I wasn’t personally forced to leave to find work, many of my family members and to an extent, my husband, were forced to seek opportunity elsewhere. While my motivation for leaving was different from Eilis, I could relate with so much of what she went through. Toibin captures so well the heartbreak of leaving your home behind and the challenge of feeling you can longer share a part of yourself with anyone. Eilis goes through many struggles, but she doesn’t want to burden her mother and sister with her pain, so she keeps it to herself. She feels she has no one that she can share her true self with until she meets Tony.

I don’t want to go too much further and potentially spoil the story for someone, so I’ll just say that I think this a story anyone can enjoy and would highly recommend to anyone who has left one home behind for another. It’s definitely a white immigration story – the struggles Eilis faces are almost laughable to what today’s immigrants experience, so definitely read those immigration stories too.

But now let’s get into more of the SPOILER part of the review.
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Like I said above, the book doesn’t sell this as a love story quite as strongly as the movie does. That’s fine because I think the love story is secondary to Eilis’ personal experience, but it is a little disappointing to read. Eilis is lukewarm to Tony throughout most of the book, but slowly grows to love him. I definitely love Tony, but he is somewhat problematic and I wasn’t totally sold on how Toibin portrays Eilis’ feelings towards Tony. Eilis really did need Tony – she needed someone to share herself with. She keeps to herself a lot and struggles to fit in with the women she boards with, so when she connects with Tony, he is very much a lifeline to her. She’s reluctant in love, but I think it’s more a part of her character than her feelings about Tony. It just takes her a while to really warm up to him. Overall I was impressed with how Toibin communicates Eilis’ story, but there were definitely a few instances where Eilis’ internal thoughts didn’t jive with me. It was only a handful of times, but I did find myself thinking, “this is a man writing how HE thinks a young woman would think, rather than how I think Eilis would actually think” (if that makes sense).

Tony pressures Eilis into marrying him because he’s afraid she won’t come back from Ireland otherwise. It’s definitely a legitimate fear, but sad for both of them that they don’t trust their love enough to really test it. More disappointing of course is Eilis’ relationship with Jim when she returns to Ireland. This relationship is absolutely essential to the story, but Eilis’ indifference to Tony in the book as compared to the movie was a little upsetting to me. I didn’t remember her actually kissing Jim in the movie (or at least not more than once), whereas in the book she pretty much has a full on relationship with him and reflects that she regrets marrying Tony. 

Don’t get me wrong, I love how this dilemma is presented to Eilis. Suddenly everything she ever wanted is available to her in Ireland. She reflects on why life couldn’t have been like this for her 2 years ago before she was forced to go to America, but she also has to acknowledge that America helped her to grow in so many ways and is largely responsible for the success she’s now able to have in Ireland. But in my opinion the movie better presents the dilemma in having to choose between these two lives. Because in the book Eilis openly regrets her marriage to Tony, it’s a little disappointing to then see her return to that life anyways. With both the book and the movie ultimately having the same ending, I definitely prefer the movie. One of my favourite scenes from the movie is when Eilis boards the boat back to America and mentors the new Irish girl about her lived experience. It’s so moving and more cathartic than how Toibin opts to end the book. Maybe the book is more accurate in the heartbreak of her decision, but the movie definitely provides the catharsis.

I did still like Eilis’ reflections on her life in Brooklyn in the book though. She describes how it seems like a hazy dream to her now that’s returned to Ireland. I thought it was so accurate how when surrounded by people you used to know, the experiences you lived without them almost seem to disappear. Her mother and friends thought she was glamorous upon her return, but they had little interest in what actually happened to her in Brooklyn. This is accurate to my own experiences.

I’ve been away from home for a lot longer than Eilis, but aside from my parents, I generally find my friends don’t have a whole lot of interest in my life in BC. It’s not that they don’t care, I think it’s just that it’s no longer a shared experience between us, so it’s easier for them to talk about their own lives because those lives exist in a setting we can at least both relate to. It’s also a struggle because despite how much you grow, you often remain in stasis for those friends (as they do for you as well). Because of the distance it’s hard for you to grow together now and so you become stuck as former versions of yourself.

As much as I love the movie ending over the book ending. I did love the last thought that Eilis has on her way back to America. How the fact that “she has gone back to Brooklyn” is something that Jim will be upset about for awhile, but how over time it will become something that means less and less to him, while it will become everything to her. The movie ends with the line “and you realize, that this is where your life is”, which is also accurate. Despite the heartbreak of repeatedly saying goodbye to your friends and family every time you see them, the truth is that you have built a life somewhere else, and that’s okay.

A Murderous Relation

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Author: Deanna Raybourn
Genres: Mystery, Historical Fiction
Pub. Date: Mar. 2020 (read Apr. 2021)

I’ve been having so much fun reading a Veronica Speedwell book each month. This was book number 5. I don’t think I liked it quite as much as book 4, but a solid follow-up for sure! Since we’re so far into the series, I’m not going to bother blurbing this one and it will contain SPOILERS, so if you’re thinking of reading this series, check out my review of the first book, A Curious Beginning, instead.
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I really liked A Dangerous Collaboration because we finally got some movement on the Veronica/Stoker front, which continues (slowly of course) into A Murderous Relation. I think it’s a wise choice on Raybourn’s behalf because romantic relationships are so much of what makes a series like this compelling and if you plan to continue on with the series for an extended period of time, you need to keep the drama! 

So I liked that there was progress in this book. As usual, Veronica and Stoker are up to some wild antics when they infiltrate a sex club to steal a diamond. Raybourn always has the most devilishly intriguing and risqué plots, but it’s part of what makes the series so fun. I liked that this book had a lot of action in it. Some of the other books are a bit slow to get started, but I didn’t find that to be the case with this one. The only thing that I didn’t like was that it was more or less a repeat of the plot of the first book. Obviously there are some changes and I really liked Eddy’s character, but overall a little disappointing not to see the author come up with something different. 

Again, I guess that’s one of the challenges with so long of a series. I did kind of feel like book 5 would actually make a good ending point for the series. We get really good closure at the end of this book and I wonder how much further Raybourn will really be able to take this series and still have it be meaningful. I really respect authors when they know the right time to walk away from a series.

So I haven’t decided if I will read the next book or not. There’s only 1 more that’s been released and since it’s only available in hardback (my collection is all paperback), I was thinking I might wait a year and read it once it’s released in paperback, if I still feel like continuing the series. Part of me definitely wants to continue because the characters are so much fun, but I also feel really satisfied with how far I’ve made it in the series, so I guess we’ll have to wait and see!

A Dangerous Collaboration

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Author: Deanna Raybourn
Genres: Mystery, Historical Fiction
Pub. Date: Mar. 2019 (read Mar. 2021)
Series: Veronica Speedwell #4

The first book in this series is excellent, but I found books 2 and 3 were not quite as strong as the first book. We get great characterization of our heroes, Veronica and Stoker, but the mysteries were quite slow paced and I felt like I had to trod through the first half of the books before things really picked up.

A Dangerous Collaboration falls into some of the same traps as the last two, but I did find this one so much more compelling! I think it was a really good call to get the characters out of London for a change. Veronica and Stoker are meant to roam and I was getting as frustrated as they were by being London-bound for so long. I loved the inclusion of Stoker’s brother in this book as I think the series does rely heavily on Veronica and Stoker and could use a few more recurring minor characters.

I liked the mystery element in this book – book 2 is probably my least favourite because Veronica and Stoker act more as consulting detectives. They were less connected to the mystery than they were in book 3, but Raybourn really upped the ante on their relationship in this book, which is what made it so compelling for me.

It’s a rough start, with Veronica and Stoker fighting, I really missed their constant banter. But they finally start to reflect more on their feelings and what they mean to one another, plus Stoker starts playing some mind games – I loved everything about it! It was frustrating, but oh so intriguing! The first book was the perfect blend of historical fiction, mystery, and romance, but I felt the romance element has been somewhat missing from books 2 and 3, so it was everything to finally get some drama in this book!

The ending leads right into the next book, so I hope to jump into that one soon!

A Court of Mist and Fury

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
Author: Sarah J. Maas
Genres: Fantasy
Pub. Date: May. 2016 (read Dec. 2016)
Series: A Court of Thorns and Roses #2

I recently re-read ACOMAF and ACOWAR (but not ACOTAR because I hate it). I had a review for ACOMAF on my goodreads that I’ve apparently never posted here, and discovered I’d never actually written a review for ACOWAR. So check out my old review for ACOMAF here and I’ll post my ACOWAR review shortly.

This review has some spoilers for ACOTAR and ACOMAF.

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I love this book so much!!

I read this series for the first time about 5 months ago because I love Maas’ Throne of Glass series. Unfortunately, I really didn’t like ACOTAR, but I stuck with it because I heard ACOMAF was much better and I’m so glad I did!

I love Feyre’s journey in this book. She was such a contradiction in the first book, being both strong, but also whiny and pathetic. I thought she was so real in this book. What happened Under the Mountain completely destroyed her and I appreciated Maas for recognizing that it’s okay for strong characters to fall apart. It took time for Feyre to accept the things that happened to her and her slow healing felt so natural and cathartic.

This book was quite a bit longer than the first of the series, but I thought the flow of the story was fantastic. I love where the story went and all the new characters we were introduced to throughout. I loved everyone in Rhysand’s inner circle and I felt they were all well-realized characters, yet I’m excited because I know there’s so much more to learn about them.

And of course, this book was sexy. The slow build flirtation and romance throughout completely moved the story along. I absolutely love the love story in this book. Feyre and Rhys’ relationship was so moving and healthy, I totally fell in love with Rhys too. A lot of romances feel very one sided (i.g., the man as protector or decision maker), but the romance in ACOMAF was built on equality and the freedom to make your own choices. What I loved about Rhys was that all his imperfections were what made him perfect. I loved that Maas took a character that had been pretty awful and made me fall in love with him.

As much as I didn’t like ACOTAR, I can appreciate it a little bit more now that I’ve seen where Maas was planning to take the story. This was my second read-through and I am going to start A Court of Wings and Ruin immediately because it just came out today!!

Northanger Abbey

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐.5
Author: Jane Austen
Genres: Fiction, Classics
Pub. Date: 1817 (read Dec. 2020 on Audible)
Narrator: Emma Thompson & Cast

Did I read this entire book in a day? Maybe, but honestly with the pandemic there’s not much else to be doing these days and I had the most wonderful time doing a jigsaw while listening.

I thoroughly loved this! 4.5 stars! I know NA does not have the same depth as her other works, but it was just so much fun to read! Catherine Morland is the spunkiest heroine and I loved watching her grow up and learn how to read people and navigate the world. She’s so hopelessly naïve, but it was endearing. Even though most of Austen’s heroines are young, I felt NA much more a coming-of-age story than any of her other books, and I do love a good coming of age story.

I don’t have as much to say about this one because, as I said, the themes don’t really have the same depth as P&P or S&S, but as far as humour and satire go I think this might be one of Austen’s best books. The way she satirizes gothic novels and literature in general in this book is just hilarious! There’s quite a difference between the first and second halves of the book, but I got a kick out of Catherine’s naïveté in the first half and her dramatization of Northanger Abbey in the second half.

I did find the ending a tiny bit jarring (may be a theme) with Catherine being sent away so unceremoniously, but overall I thought NA was comedic brilliance. It showcases Austen’s witty dialogue and her ability to convey characterization through discussion. Isabella and John are quickly shown to be totally insipid, while Henry showcases his intelligence and wit. That said, I loved the introduction of a female villain in this book!

My personal highlights were (in no particular order):
– Catherine thinking the General either murdered his wife or was hiding her in a dungeon
– Catherine having no idea about flirting or subtlety, with every comment going over her head
– Isabella’s incessant chatter and John’s egotistical ramblings
– Catherine finally dumping the Thorpe’s to go walking with the Tilney’s
– Austen’s defense of novels
– Catherine’s disappointment at Northanger Abbey being totally normal
– how Catherine’s imagination runs away with her after hearing Henry’s story
– how Catherine grows and finally learns how to judge the character of those around her