Review: The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah

The Nightingale

 

Title: The Nightingale
Author: Kristin Hannah
Publisher: Pan
Publication Date: 8th October 2015
Pages: 464

 

 

I initially added this book to my TBR because of its comparisons to All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr – but I actually think these books are very different. While the beauty in Doerr’s novel lies in his exquisite prose, Hannah’s strength is in the raw emotional power her writing conveys.

The novel tells the stories of sisters Vianne and Isabelle, two brave women who each place themselves in the face of grave danger to save lives during the Nazi occupation of France during WWII. For some reason I had expected these sisters to be the best of friends, but in fact they have spent years barely in contact, due to both their somewhat clashing personalities and difficult past.

Isabelle, the youngest, is still in her teens when war is declared. With her passion, outspokenness and determination, she instantly involves herself in the French Resistance, whilst concealing her actions from elder sister Vianne, who has always viewed Isabelle as reckless and troublesome.

Vianne’s role in the resistance is more subtle than Isabelle’s, but she faces hardships of a different nature. As a mother to young Sophie, Vianne is forced to consider the lengths she will go to in order to keep her daughter safe, with some devastating consequences. I’m not a mother myself, yet I could completely relate to the turmoil Vianne faced in her struggle to protect her daughter, which is a testimony to Hannah’s amazing ability to stir emotion in her readers.

The pacing of the novel was very good – it covered the entire war, yet never felt jarring or as if too much was trying to be crammed in. I felt throughout that Hannah had complete command over the story she wanted to tell, and I was fully immersed right the way through to the beautiful, heartbreaking ending (tissues advised!).

In terms of emotion and characterisation, this was definitely a 5* read for me – but what stopped me giving it 5* overall was some questionable moments of historical accuracy. It was clear that Hannah had researched the period to some extent, but then proceeded to dump all the drama and atrocities she had researched upon the single fictional French town where her story was mostly set, which was a little unrealistic.

Overall, though, The Nightingale is an incredibly powerful and moving novel, and if you enjoy reading about WWII then I would highly recommend it.

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On the Box #1 | Darkest Hour

As I’ve mentioned before on this blog, my love of historical fiction is not limited to novels. A few months ago, I wrote a blog post about my Favourite Period Dramas, including popular new shows such as The Crown and Victoria, and adaptations of beloved classics such as Pride and Prejudice.

Since then, I’ve discovered several new favourite period dramas and films, so I thought I would make a regular feature on my blog for me to share what I’ve been watching recently.

So without further ado, here’s the first post in my series of period dramas/films I’ve been loving recently!

Gary Oldman er nesten ikke til å kjenne igjen som Winston Churchill i

Credit: United International

 

Title: Darkest Hour
Format: Film
Released: 2017
Starring: Gary Oldman, Lily James, Kristin Scott Thomas

 

What’s it about?

This Oscar-winning film starts with Winston Churchill becoming Prime Minister in 1940, as Britain faces the very real possibility of a Nazi invasion. Facing opposition from fellow politicians, Churchill must decide whether to attempt to negotiate peace with Nazi Germany, or continue fighting.

Leading right up to Dunkirk, the famous rescue in which hundreds of thousands of Allied troops were rescued from beaches in the north of France, Darkest Hour deals with Churchill’s struggles – both internal and external – as he fights to gain the confidence of fellow politicians and the credibility of the public whilst being forced to make one of the most difficult decisions a prime minister has ever had to make.

Plot: Darkest Hour stars Gary as British wartime Prime Minister Winston Churchill who showcased a jaw-dropping transformation to play the revered Briton

Credit: LMK

 

Why I love it

I’m one of those people who seems to live under a rock and is really quite ignorant about famous actors, so when I watched the film I didn’t actually know what Gary Oldman looked like in real life. As soon as I Googled him afterwards, I was completely amazed – because as I’m sure most of you will know, that is some make-up and hairstyling team who succeeded in pulling off his transformation!

Incredible make-up aside, Gary Oldman’s acting was absolutely phenomenal. He was Churchill for me, in every sense of the word, and I loved the way that he was portrayed as a flawed person who was incredibly difficult to deal with despite his courageous decisions.

Kristin Scott Thomas and Gary Oldman in the film 'Darkest Hour'

Credit: Focus Features

 

Recommended if you like:

Oscar-winning films, WWII, films based on true stories

 

Did you see Darkest Hour when it was out in the cinema? What did you think? Leave your comments below, as I would love to hear your thoughts!

 

Review: Fortune’s Wheel by Carolyn Hughes

I was pretty intimidated upon opening this book to find a cast of characters spanning a couple of pages preceding the opening chapter. With several of these characters having very similar sounding names, I was beginning to get serious Game of Thrones vibes (this is not a criticism – I love the Game of Thrones books, but they’re just such an investment to read!).

Once I got into the story, though, I found I could have probably got through the novel without the cast of characters, although it was handy to have. Yes, there are several characters, as this novel is really a study of an entire village piecing itself back together in the aftermath of the plague, but I never found that I lost track of who was who.

The blurb focuses on Alice atte Wode’s missing daughter Agnes, so I thought this book would be a mystery centred around the search for Agnes and the reason for her disappearance. Those elements did feature in the plot – but as previously mentioned, this was a novel about the village as a whole, following several main characters, so I thought it a bit odd that the blurb makes it seem as if there’s only one.

If you’ve been following my reviews for a while, you’ll know that I normally prefer 19th or 20th century historical fiction – but I actually really enjoyed Carolyn Hughes’ portrayal of 14th century Britain. It definitely feels very authentic, and has clearly been well-researched, but it also feels very accessible in a similar way to Philippa Gregory’s writing.

Although it was different to what I expected, I enjoyed the opportunity to see how the plague would have affected all tiers of society within a typical English village. Not even the Lord and his family escaped unscathed, and I was really interested to see how the plague knocked down some of those class divides, giving the lower classes the power to make demands of their master.

There was a strong element of religious belief to this novel, which again is true to the time period. I’d never really considered this implication of the plague before, but it would have been quite a tumultuous event in shaping people’s faith and belief, having come at random, killing not only sinners but also the most pious in society, including men of the cloth. Though I found it interesting, I did think the author laboured it a bit too much for me, with each narrator (and there were a fair few) mentioning it at least once.

Overall this was a mixed bag for me. I loved learning more about the time period, but in terms of plot and characterisation it fell short of what I’d expected.

The Mid-Year Book Freakout Tag

I wasn’t tagged to do this post, but I’ve seen it everywhere and thought it seemed like such a fun way to reflect on my reading this year. So without further ado, here’s a whistlestop tour of my 2018 reading so far!

1. Best book you’ve read so far in 2018.
Homgeoing by Yaa Gyasi was such an incredible read. It’s definitely the most beautiful writing I’ve read this year, and so unique. It was one of those special reading experiences where I found myself constantly wanting to read it, but also wanting to take my time in order to savour every moment.

2. Best sequel you’ve read so far in 2018.
I cannot stop raving about Winter of the Worldthe 2nd book in Ken Follett’s Century trilogy. This is a mammoth book, totalling almost 1000 pages, but I completely devoured it in less than two weeks.

3. New release you haven’t read yet, but want to.
How Do You Like Me Now? by Holly Bourne is a book I’ve been excited to read for months. It sounds like the exact book I need in my life right now, as I attempt to navigate the murky waters of my mid-twenties.

HomegoingWinter of the World (Century Trilogy #2)How Do You Like Me Now?

4. Most anticipated release for the second half of the year.
So this one only just counts as “second half of the year” as it comes out on the 12th July, but I’m so excited for Floored. It sounds like the perfect YA summer read, and I plan to read it as soon as possible.

5. Biggest disappointment.
The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock was a novel I’d hyped up so much in my mind, but unfortunately it just didn’t meet those expectations. The sumptuous period detail was there, but unfortunately I found the plot to be lacking, and I really didn’t enjoy the magical realism.

6. Biggest surprise.
I’m not sure why this was such a surprise, given the level of hype this series receives, but I really didn’t expect to become quite as addicted to The Mortal Instruments as I have done! Since reading City of Bones in April I’ve been devouring the rest of the series, which is really unusual for me.

FlooredThe Mermaid and Mrs HancockCity of Bones (The Mortal Instruments, #1)

7. Favourite new author. (Debut or new to you)
When I picked up The House of New Beginnings by Lucy Diamond on a whim in Waterstones, I had no idea I’d fall so in love with her writing. Heartwarming and hilarious whilst dealing with some difficult topics, Lucy Diamond’s books are now my top choice whenever I’m in the mood for some contemporary romance.

8. Newest fictional crush.
Well I think this just has to be Connor from Goodbye, Perfect by Sara Barnard, really. He’s the sort of boy I wish had gone to school with me, because he’s just perfect! He’s such a lovely boyfriend, and his relationship with Eden was one of my favourite things about this book.

9. Newest favourite character.
No blog post about my 2018 reading is complete without a mention of Scythe by Neal Shusterman – in particular Scythe Faraday, whose character I adored. Straight-laced and a stickler for the rules, yet maintaining a conscience and a big heart, he became an instant favourite of mine.

The House of New BeginningsGoodbye, PerfectScythe

10. Book that made you cry.
I don’t cry at books very often, and I don’t think I’ve properly cried whilst reading a book this year – but I got pretty close with Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie. This is such a heartbreaking novel dealing with a very difficult topic, and I am awe of Kamila Shamsie’s skill –  Home Fire was a very worthy winner of the Women’s Prize for fiction.

11. Book that made you happy.
It might seem a bit weird because this isn’t an especially cheerful book, but I felt so happy whilst reading A Darker Shade of Magic by V. E. Shwab. I adored the writing style and the awesome characters of Kell and Lila, and I can’t wait to read the rest of the series.

12. Favourite book to film adaptation you saw this year.
I’m going with a “book to TV” adaptation here, because I have to mention how much I loved BBC’s recent adaptation of The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins. It was delightfully creepy and Gothic, which gave me definite Wuthering Heights vibes.

Home FireA Darker Shade of Magic (Shades of Magic, #1)The Woman in White

13. Favourite review you’ve written this year.
I wrote my entire review for Glass Roses by Britain Kalai Soderquist with a massive grin on my face. I am so happy for Britain that she has published her beautiful book, and writing my review was a great way to take part in celebrating her success.

14. Most beautiful book you’ve bought so far this year (or received)
It will come as no surprise that the most beautiful book I’ve received so far this year (and perhaps in my entire life) is Circe by Madeline Miller. I was lucky enough to receive it as a birthday present from my boyfriend – he knows I’m a sucker for beautiful books!

15. What books do you need to read by the end of the year?
I’ve had Jane Eyre on my TBR for so long, and I really want to get to it by the end of this year. I tried starting it about a month ago, but I just wasn’t feeling it, so I put it down because I want to save it until I’m properly in the mood.

Glass Roses: A Victorian FairytaleCirceJane Eyre

I’ve read some really great books this year, and I’m so excited to see what’s in store for the second half of 2018!

I love reading other people’s answers to this tag, so if you haven’t done it yet, consider yourself tagged 🙂

Blog Blitz: Bound to Her Blood Enemy by Tora Williams

Today I’m helping to wish debut author Tora Williams a fabulous book birthday! Bound to Her Blood Enemy, a gripping historical fiction set in medieval England and Wales, is published today, and I’m bringing you my review as part of a publication day blitz organised by Rachel’s Random Resources.

Synopsis

BoundtoHerBloodEnemy_w12430_750Norman heiress, Matilda Comyn is desperate to escape her grasping guardian and reclaim her inheritance. After a lifetime of being let down by men, she wants to rule her lands on her own terms. She can’t escape without help and battles her mistrust when compelled to join forces with a Welsh spy.

Huw Ap Goronwy has a rival claim to Matilda’s castle and has sworn a blood oath against the Comyns. When his king rules they must marry, he struggles to reconcile his attraction with his need for revenge. But they must form a truce if they are to seize their castle.

Risking capture and death, they will only succeed if Matilda learns to trust, and Huw allows his love for Matilda to overcome his need for revenge.

Purchase Links
Amazon (UK): https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B07D6FT4HH
Amazon (US): https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07D6FT4HH
The Wild Rose Press Catalogue: https://catalog.thewildrosepress.com/paperback-books/5938-bound-to-her-blood-enemy-paperback.html

 

About the Author

VickiBeeby-author-picTora lives in Shropshire in the United Kingdom. On childhood holidays her interest in history was fired by exploring castles in Wales and the Welsh borders, and she would make up stories about characters living there. When she started writing, it seemed only natural to turn to the settings that inspired her as a child. In her free time, when she can drag herself away from reading, she enjoys walking and cycling.

Social Media Links
Blog:
http://www.torawilliams.uk/blog
Facebook page:  https://www.facebook.com/ToraWilliamsAuthor/
Twitter: @ToraWilliams1

 

And now for my thoughts…

 

Review

Thank you to Rachel’s Random Resources for inviting me to participate in this publication day event, and for providing me with an ARC of the book. All opinions are my own.

This book had me at the words “Welsh” and “castle”.

As a Welsh person who grew up just inside the Welsh border, I am very well-versed in the centuries of conflict between the Welsh and the neighbouring English. I remember school trips to some of the old castles in the Welsh Marches, where teachers would tell stories of the Welsh princes and the Marcher Lords – and in Bound to Her Blood Enemy, Tora Williams brought the history to life for me.

The novel’s opening instantly drew me in, with an intriguing introduction to Matilda Comyn, our protagonist, and a mysterious figure who has just made an appearance at the castle gates. From there the story continues at a good pace, with plenty of action, adventure and romance to keep me gripped the whole way through.

One of my favourite aspects of the book was the slow-burning romance between Matilda and Huw. Although the chemistry was there from the beginning, both Matilda and Huw were flawed individuals with demons to conquer and baggage to deal with along the way, so the development of their relationship felt believable and natural.

The real strength of the novel, however, was in Tora Williams’ ability to capture perfectly the tension between the Welsh prince Owain Gwynedd’s people and Matilda Comyn’s Norman family. Matilda, with a Norman father and Welsh mother, finds herself stuck somewhere between the two nations as she struggles to fit in. Her journey to find herself and where she belongs was so relatable, and it really made me feel for Matilda as a character.

Overall, this was a thoroughly enjoyable read. If you love adventurous medieval tales of castles, blood feuds and romance, then you should definitely give this a read!

 

 

Down the TBR Hole #2

For the original post in this series, click here.

Web

I’m back for round #2 of  Lost in a Story’s fabulous method of conquering your TBR. Last time saw me only get rid of 1 book, which has me wondering if this will get easier with time!

Here’s how it works (taken directly from the source):

  • Go to your goodreads to-read shelf.
  • Order on ascending date added.
  • Take the first 5 (or 10 if you’re feeling adventurous) books
  • Read the synopses of the books
  • Decide: keep it or should it go?

So, let’s get started…

The Books

The Power

The Power by Naomi Alderman
This is one of those books I’ve seen everywhere. The premise is an interesting one: a dystopian world where women have the power to kill with their touch. I’ve heard people recommend it for fans of The Handmaid’s Tale – a book I did enjoy reading last year – so I think I’ll give this one a go and see what all the hype is about!

Judgement: KEEP

 

 

The Lost LetterThe Lost Letter by Mimi Matthews
I first found out about this novel through following Mimi’s blog – one of the first I ever followed. I love reading her posts about snippets of Victorian history, so I was very excited to discover she had a Victorian historical romance novel coming out. I expect this to be sweet and well-researched, which sounds like something I’ll love!

Judgement: KEEP

 

 

The Raven Boys (The Raven Cycle, #1)

The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater
This one is a tough choice for me. I’ve heard good things about this series from several people whose opinions I trust – but do I really need to be introducing another YA fantasy series into my life right now? In all honesty, there are several YA fantasy series higher on my priority list for the time being, and I can’t see myself starting on this one anytime soon.

Judgement: GO

 

 

Eliza and Her Monsters

Eliza and Her Monsters by Francesca Zappia
This is another book which has received SO MUCH HYPE – every single review I’ve read/watched has been pretty much unanimous in its praise. It centres around a girl who creates a webcomic – which has that online community setting I loved so much about Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell – and apparently it has some really good mental health representation. Sounds like a winner to me!

Judgement: KEEP

 

 

Traitor's KnotTraitor’s Knot by Cryssa Bazos
I originally added this to my TBR in a bid to diversify my historical fiction reading. I tend to stick mostly to 19th and 20th century settings, but the English Civil War setting of this novel captured my interest. Unfortunately, though, it keeps getting pushed to the back of the queue, and I think I’ve come to the conclusion that I shouldn’t feel bad about sticking mainly to 19th and 20th century historical fiction, because that’s just what I enjoy the most.

Judgement: GO

 

Results

This Round: Kept 3/5
Overall: Kept 7/10

 

 

Review: Glass Roses by Britain Kalai Soderquist

To me, this book felt like a warm hug or a cosy blanket. It was comforting, uplifting and pure joy to read.

The premise is an interesting one: a retelling of Cinderella and Beauty and the Beast, set in the early Victorian period – a perfect combination of 19th century historical fiction and fairytale retellings, which are two of my favourite things to read! This isn’t any magic in this book; it’s a straight-up, clean historical romance, perfect for Austen fans.

What makes this novel extra unique is that it’s told in epistolary form. The characters of Eleanor and Isabella (Cinderella and Belle) are cousins through the remarriage of Eleanor’s father to Isabella’s aunt, and the story is told through the cousins’ regular correspondence. The epistolary format meant that this wasn’t a fast, action-packed novel, but I actually found that to be a merit as it made the letters feel very authentic.

Another point to note about the format is that the author set herself an additional challenge in writing the whole novel in keeping with period language and tone – a challenge which was met with impressive ease. Whilst completely immersed in the story, it was so easy to believe that these letters really had been written by two young ladies during the 1840s.

In terms of plot, I thought the fairytales were introduced in a very clever way. The elements of the original stories didn’t feel forced, but rather were subtle additions which made me smile. I particularly liked the way Cinderella’s role as servant to her stepsisters was brought in by having Eleanor forced to play the pianoforte at evening events so that her sisters could dance, whilst rarely being given the opportunity herself.

I can sometimes find that the characters of Cinderella and Belle a bit dull in retellings – but here I thought each character had a unique voice and personality. The dual storyline also gave an interesting structure to the plot, leading to ebbs and flows which kept me wanting to read on.

All in all, this was a truly lovely and unique historical fiction which completely swept me up in its romance. If you’re a fan of well-researched historical fiction with main characters to root for and love interests you wish could be real, then I think you will love it too!