Lovely War

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Author: Julie Berry
Genres: Historical Fiction
Pub. Date: Mar. 2019 (read Apr. 2021 on Audible)

Lovely War is another book that I found on Booktube. Hailey from Hailey in Bookland recommended it and I was really intrigued after I read the synopsis. I know Greek re-tellings are all the rage right now, but personally they’ve never really been my thing, but the idea of the Greek Gods narrating a human love story set in WW1 is somehow way more compelling to me. I was expecting something similar to the Book Thief, so I was pretty amped.

I did enjoy this book, but I would probably rate it more like 3.5 stars than 4 stars because it just wasn’t quite what I wanted it to be. The premise of the story is that when Hephaestus catches his wife Aphrodite having an affair with Ares, she convinces him to let her explain herself through the telling of a great human love affair (more or less – to be honest I thought the reasoning for her telling the whole story was somewhat weak). So she launches into a story about 2 couples during World War 1.

I think the key reason I wasn’t 100% sold on this book is because, even though I was invested in these 2 loves stories, at the end of the day, they just weren’t quite moving enough for me to be like “yeah, I understand why the God of Love was so moved by them”. I mean what would be epic enough for Aphrodite to take notice? I honestly have no idea, but I’ve definitely felt more moved by other stories.

I do wonder if I might have enjoyed this better as a paperback. I read it as an audiobook and I didn’t think the dialogue quite passed the audio test. I find audiobooks to be particularly good at exposing sub-par writing and dialogue. I didn’t think the writing was sub-par, but I can’t deny the dialogue definitely came across as a bit cheesy, which I think overall took away from the story. It’s hard to think of a couple as having a great love story when you’re rolling your eyes at some of their conversations.

So that was my biggest flaw with the book, but I do want to talk about what I liked, because there was still lots to like in this book! Namely, Aubrey Edwards. Hazel and James, in my opinion, are just another run of the mill love story, I know things go awry for them in the way things always do in war stories, but there was nothing in their relationship that I thought really made them special. Likewise, I did think parts of Aubrey and Collette’s love story were somewhat disappointing as I didn’t really feel their personal chemistry, but I was super enthralled with Aubrey’s story because it is really what sets this book apart from other WW1 books.

Because Aubrey is a Black American from the 15th New York infantry. Maybe I’m not reading the right books, but I can’t think of any popular WW books that focus on Black people. I thought this was such a great addition to the story because BIPOC are so often left out of this era of history. There’s a ton of literature focusing on slavery and the civil rights movement, but we tend to think of the world wars as a part of white history. But in the same way that Black Americans have been present for every part of America’s history (since European contact), they are often left out of the narrative. Did many Black divisions serve in the World Wars? No, but it’s as much a part of Black history as it is the history of white Americans, so I really liked seeing Aubrey’s experience represented. Plus, his experience offered something totally new. Rather than just another war romance, his was a perspective that forced me to consider something new.

Aubrey comes to Europe wanting to fight, the same as any shiny-eyed soldier. But even with the nightmare that trench warfare is, Black soldiers still weren’t considered good enough for it. Let the glory go to the White troops, Black troops were good for manual labour. Building roads and digging the trenches, all the while making sure to keep themselves separate from the White soldiers. The biggest threat Aubrey’s Regiment faces is that they’ll get on the wrong side of a trumped up White soldier who wants to make sure Black Americans remember their place in the world.  The irony being that you could go all the way to France to fight Hitler and be killed by your own compatriot. 

So Aubrey’s story was both eye-opening, but not overly surprising. It’s inspiring the optimism his Regiment carried around with them, that serving in the war would serve to elevate the position of African Americans. I also really liked how music tied in so closely with the theme and that we got exposure to the birth of the jazz age. To be honest I was more interested in the links between war and music, rather than the central theme about war and love. 

In conclusion, it’s hard to rate the book because while I was less enamoured with some parts, there were other parts I loved. Most disappointing was that overall, I just didn’t think that having the Greek Gods narrate the story actually added that much to  it. It makes the framing of your key themes a lot easier, but you could still explore the same themes without the Gods. But it’s by no means a bad book and I still really enjoyed it – I would have just liked to flip the narrative and have Aubrey as the focal character rather than Hazel. Would still recommend!

With You All the Way

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐
Author: Cynthia Hand
Genres: Young Adult
Pub. Date: Mar. 2021 (read Apr. 2021)

I’m not quite sure how this book got on my radar – I like Cynthia Hand’s Lady Janies series that she wrote with two other authors, but I haven’t actually read any of her other stuff. I saw somewhere that this was a sex positive YA book and I guess I felt like I didn’t get enough of that as an actual young adult and decided to read it. It also might have been that the cover was gorgeous… who knows.

With You All the Way tells the story of 16 year old Ada. She wants to have sex with her boyfriend, but when she finds out he’s been cheating on her just before her family trip to Hawaii, her plans are dashed. At the same time, she is worried about her parents who seem to be losing their connection to one another and she’s constantly fighting with her older sister, who she used to feel very close to. She’s tired of sex being such a big deal and so she hatches a plan to lose her virginity while in Hawaii.

So what I did like about this book was the sister relationship. I love sister stories and I love family dramas, so I liked that the plot had a bit more depth to it than just a teenager trying to lose her virginity. But overall the book was a bit underwhelming for me. I thought Ada was going to be 18 and 16 just felt so young for a girl to be putting so much thought into sex (in reality I know it’s not, and me saying that is probably not very sex positive, but 16 year olds just seem like babies to me now). Though it is handled pretty well; Ada receives advice from her sister and while she’s anxious to lose her virginity, it’s never a shameful or embarrassing thing, so I did like that portrayal. (view spoiler)

But in reality, I am just too old for this book. I do think there’s lots of YA that can be enjoyed by adults, but I did feel that this is a YA book that really is intended for young adults, and that’s great! Young people should have books that focus on sex in a positive way, that tells them it’s okay to want to have sex and it’s okay to wait. You don’t have to put a ton of pressure on making your first time super special, but it’s also okay if you want to! 

Overall it’s a pretty quick read and I would recommend to teenagers, but otherwise maybe give it a pass.

Firekeeper’s Daughter

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Author: Angeline Boulley
Genres: Young Adult, Mystery
Pub. Date: Mar. 2021 (read Apr. 2021)

I’ve been putting off reviewing this book and I’m not sure why. Firekeeper’s Daughter is getting so much buzz this year, and with good reason. First off, the cover art is dreamy, and second, it’s the most wonderful mix of genres. It’s YA, which I know might be a turn off for some, but there’s so much else going on in this book, you don’t need to be a young adult to enjoy it.

Daunis Fontaine is an unenrolled member of the Ojibwe Nation. She’s about to start her first year of College and despite her lofty dreams, she decides to stay home for College to be closer to her mom and grandmother after the death of her Uncle. Daunis is a shining star, but unfortunately drugs have started making their way around her town and on the reservation. After a shocking murder, Daunis becomes entwined in the drug investigation and goes undercover with the FBI. They think the drug producers might be using traditional tribal medicine to create a new hallucinogen and Daunis is able to use her traditional knowledge to help in the investigation.

Daunis is a great character and Boulley does some really interesting things with this book. Daunis is coming to terms with the deaths of multiple people who were important in her life and the struggle of finding where she belongs. She’s biracial, so though she’s accepted within the Ojibwe Nation, she’s not an enrolled member and always feels one step removed from the tribe. She has a traumatic family history, having lost her Dad young, but has a close relationship with her step brother, her mother, and her Dad’s extended family. 

What makes this novel special is that it blends so many aspects of Ojibwe culture into the narrative. Boulley is an enrolled member of the Sault Ste. Marie tribe of Chippewa Indians and sets the story in an area that she knows well. She tackles a lot of different issues in her book, from racism and drug abuse, to grief and growing up. It’s a murder mystery, while also being a family drama. My only complaint is that it’s just too long. 500 pages is long for any book, but especially for a YA mystery novel. It felt like it took a long time for the narrative to really get going. It wasn’t uninteresting and I felt like I was given adequate time to really get to know and love the characters, but it was a little overdone and I think 100 pages could be cut without losing the impact of the story.

Otherwise, I would still recommend. We are seeing more and more books from indigenous authors, but this one definitely blew up in a big way, which is great to see. Definitely hope to see more from this author! 

The Queen of Nothing

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Author: Holly Black
Genres: Fantasy
Pub. date: Nov. 2019 (read Dec. 2019)

If you’ve read my previous reviews, you might know that I liked but didn’t love Holly Black’s two previous books, The Cruel Prince and The Wicked King. They’ve been incredibly hyped up and a lot of people really like that, but for some reason they just didn’t work as well for me.

Mostly I think it comes down to me not really meshing with Holly Black’s writing style. I find her writing a bit juvenile. I feel like I’m reading middle grade even though the storyline is anything but middle grade. It’s a very simple style of writing. She doesn’t waste words and I think that works for a lot of people; I just fail to be overly impressed by it.

Something about the plot of the first book just didn’t really work for me either, I found it a bit disjointed. But I can’t deny that I was a lot more engaged in the second book, though I still didn’t love it. For someone who didn’t love either of the first two books though, I was crazy excited for the final book in the trilogy. The Wicked King does have a killer cliffhanger and despite feeling so-so about a lot of the book, I was definitely hyped up by the ending.

Enter The Queen of Nothing. I couldn’t wait to get my hands on this one! Hachette was kind enough to send me a finished copy, so I was eagerly awaiting for it to arrive. I ended up being off sick with a cold when it did finally arrive and I’m not embarrassed to say I read the whole thing the day it arrived. I still don’t love the writing style, but something about the final book just really worked for me! I wasn’t really super into the whole Jude/Cardan thing in previous books, but I was trash for it in this one. I couldn’t wait for them to finally be in the same room again so I could read all their witty banter. Plus I liked Cardan a lot more in this one. I’m not sure if it’s because I’ve forgotten a lot of the particulars and just how cruel he was in the first two books, but I thought he had a lot of character growth and I liked how he finally dispensed with being an asshole to Jude.

The book builds up a lot in the middle, which really propelled me through it. So much was happening around the halfway mark that I felt like I had to be at the climax of the book, but no, there was still so much more action yet to come. Holly totally caught me off guard with that huge twist near the end, and while I did think the resolution after that was a bit obvious, she still gets major points for shock value. Although, that’s something that’s been present through all 3 books.

Anyways, despite my mixed feelings of the first two books, I’m kind of tempted to read the whole thing again. It’s definitely a juicy series and I wonder if I’d enjoy it more on  a second read through now that I’m able to look beyond the writing style. A great ending to a pretty good trilogy!

The Grace Year

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Author: Kim Liggett
Genres: Sci-fi, Dystopian, Young Adult
Pub. date: Oct. 8, 2019 (read in July 2019)

Special thanks to Netgalley and Wednesday Books for providing me with a free advanced copy in exchange for an honest review.

I was halfway through this when I had to set it aside to read my book club pick for the month, No Exit by Taylor Adams. Both of these books are f***ed and I feel like I’ve been so anxious for the last two weeks because of it.

Both of these books succeeded in racking up my blood pressure, but that’s about where the comparisons end. No Exit was not a good book, this was.

The Grace Year is dystopian fiction about a society that believes women have a powerful magic that they grow into when they get their first period and that they must be sent away for a year to burn off that magic before they can be welcomed back into the community as wives. It’s a total wild ride that had me enthralled from the very beginning. It’s a dark read with a lot of violence, but unlike some other books I’ve read, the violence achieves something. Liggett uses that violence to make powerful social commentary on the roles of women in society, the way we treat one another, and how things could be different.

The Grace Year refers to the year when the girls are sent away to live in the woods and burn off their magic. The society is very much controlled by men who believes women need to be punished for Eve’s original sins. The Grace Year is never spoken about in the community, but is a grim time in every women’s life. Many come back missing body parts or emotionally scarred, and that’s just the girls that return. Many never return and are instead taken by poachers who harvest their body parts because the community believes in the medicinal properties of the dead girls magic.

While all the other girls are concerned with landing a husband before their grace year, Tierney is perfectly content to labour in the fields when she returns, not wanting the be controlled by a man. But once the girls begin their grace year and discover the freedom they have for the first time in their lives, they start to turn on one another and realize the real danger is not the poachers, but the pain they will inflict on one another.

It’s a dark book and I did struggle with it at some points, but like I said, I think the violence serves a purpose in this book, which is why I was able to read through it. Liggett has an interesting writing style and the book itself has a really interesting structure. The girls take out their frustrations on one another because they’ve never been allowed to express emotion before or learned healthy ways to deal with their anger. They have allowed the men to control them for so long that they’ve completely lost any sense of compassion and have never experienced the beauty of female friendship and empathy.

Liggett keeps us guessing throughout the novel and I thought she did a great job with world building. At first things are a little confusing, but the confusion makes it more engaging because you don’t really understand the terrors lurking in the woods or why they exist. The narrative doesn’t follow the traditional storytelling structure, yet the concept of moving through the seasons of the grace year provides enough structure to guide us through the story.

I’m not sure if this is meant to be a standalone or not. I went into it thinking it was a standalone, but now I think it could go either way. It still works as a standalone, but I could also see the author expanding the story. There’s lots of room to continue developing the ideas of this book, but sometimes it’s not needed. The ending is ambiguous and I kind of like it that way.

The Grace Year will be available in stores Oct. 8, 2019.