The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah

Title: The Nightingale21853621
Author: Kristin Hannah
Pages: 440
Year: 2015
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Rating: 5/5

Goodreads Synopsis: FRANCE, 1939

In the quiet village of Carriveau, Vianne Mauriac says goodbye to her husband, Antoine, as he heads for the Front. She doesn’t believe that the Nazis will invade France…but invade they do, in droves of marching soldiers, in caravans of trucks and tanks, in planes that fill the skies and drop bombs upon the innocent. When France is overrun, Vianne is forced to take an enemy into her house, and suddenly her every move is watched; her life and her child’s life is at constant risk. Without food or money or hope, as danger escalates around her, she must make one terrible choice after another.

Vianne’s sister, Isabelle, is a rebellious eighteen-year-old girl, searching for purpose with all the reckless passion of youth. While thousands of Parisians march into the unknown terrors of war, she meets the compelling and mysterious Gäetan, a partisan who believes the French can fight the Nazis from within France, and she falls in love as only the young can…completely. When he betrays her, Isabelle races headlong into danger and joins the Resistance, never looking back or giving a thought to the real–and deadly–consequences.

With courage, grace and powerful insight, bestselling author Kristin Hannah takes her talented pen to the epic panorama of WWII and illuminates an intimate part of history seldom seen: the women’s war. The Nightingale tells the stories of two sisters, separated by years and experience, by ideals, passion and circumstance, each embarking on her own dangerous path toward survival, love, and freedom in German-occupied, war-torn France–a heartbreakingly beautiful novel that celebrates the resilience of the human spirit and the durability of women. It is a novel for everyone, a novel for a lifetime.

This book took me a while to get into, but once I did I just fell in love with Vianne and Isabelle Mauriac. Their story was so beautiful, and it reduced me to tears. (Robot status report: does not compute.) As the goodreads synopsis says, Vianne and Isabelle are two somewhat estranged sisters living in France. All but abandoned by their father after the death of their mother, Vianne and Isabelle have each grown up very differently. Older sister Vianne is timid, introverted, and dependent on her husband. (If she was an animal, she would be a mouse for sure.) Isabelle, having been bounced between boarding schools since she was a child, is rebellious and immature. She doesn’t have a problem with saying what she thinks and standing up for what she believes in. It is no surprise that when the war breaks out, each sister deals with it in a different way.

Isabelle is outraged by the German occupation and immediately joins the resistance. She rebels against them in any way that she can, even placing Vianne and her daughter in danger in the process. She receives an opportunity to go to Paris and seizes it, never letting Vianne know the grave reality of what she is doing. For her last name, Mauriac, she becomes known as “The Nightingale,”  and graduates from passing out flyers to escorting downed air pilots back across the border into allied territory. Basically, she is known by the Germans as Undesirable No. 1 (for my HP fans out there). Isabelle grows up a great deal throughout the story – from an 18 year-old girl who falls in love-at-first-sight with an escaped jailbird, to a young woman who has dedicated her life to the service of others.

While Isabelle’s character teetered on the edge of annoying in the beginning of the novel, I couldn’t have been more satisfied with where she ends up. I found her to be so brave, throwing caution to the wind and never letting up in her resolve. She never once thought about what could happen if she was caught, only the task at hand. I am a cautious person by nature, so the fact that she would do half of the things she did was inspiring to me.

Vianne, whose husband has gone off to defend the Maginot line, slides into survival mode and takes every day as it comes. That is, until they start taking away the Jews. She begins saving Jewish children before they can be taken away, and hiding them in the orphanage at her local church. One of them, her best friend’s son, Vianne adopts as her own. All this, under the nose of the German Officer living in her home.

Vianne also went through a huge character transformation throughout the book. While she may have been timid and unsure of herself in the beginning, the war turns her into a warrior of sorts. While Isabelle is out fighting on the front lines, Vianne is fighting on the home front. She fights for the survival of her family, her friends, and her country. Literally and figuratively. Even though she is not always actively and outwardly resisting the Germans, she does it in small ways that make a difference in every life she touches. While Isabelle is the thunder and lightning, Vianne is the rain. She is comforting and subtle, playing a part in the storm.

At the beginning of the book, we find out that only one sister has survived the war. Hannah does a great job of tipping the scales to either side, making it appear as if one sister is doomed and then tipping it towards the other. I have to say, while the book definitely led up to it, I didn’t expect the outcome it gave me. I kept hoping for a different end. However, I think she tied up all the loose ends nicely. Some, more abruptly than others.

All in all, it was a fabulous read. I would recommend this to anyone that has a sister, it definitely gave me a new appreciation for mine.

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Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi

Title: Shatter Me13455782
Author: Tahereh Mafi
Pages: 338
Year: 2012 (First published 2011)
Publisher: HarperCollins
Rating: 3/5

Goodreads Synopsis: Juliette hasn’t touched anyone in exactly 264 days.

The last time she did, it was an accident, but The Reestablishment locked her up for murder. No one knows why Juliette’s touch is fatal. As long as she doesn’t hurt anyone else, no one really cares. The world is too busy crumbling to pieces to pay attention to a 17-year-old girl. Diseases are destroying the population, food is hard to find, birds don’t fly anymore, and the clouds are the wrong color.

The Reestablishment said their way was the only way to fix things, so they threw Juliette in a cell. Now so many people are dead that the survivors are whispering war – and The Reestablishment has changed its mind. Maybe Juliette is more than a tortured soul stuffed into a poisonous body. Maybe she’s exactly what they need right now.

Juliette has to make a choice: Be a weapon. Or be a warrior.

I know that I’m in the minority when I say that I actually really liked the repetition and word striking. I know… But hear me out!

It reminded me of the way thoughts go through your head. You’re constantly thinking and discarding old thoughts, like I need to go for a run I need to sit on the couch. Or when you’re worried about something and you keep thinking and stressing out about it. Sometimes you second guess yourself, sometimes you think a million miles an hour. So, no. The writing style didn’t bother me. What drove me up the wall and down the street to Walmart and back was the content. More on that later, here is a quote from the book to keep you occupied until then:

“I always wonder about raindrops.

I wonder about how they’re always falling down, tripping over their own feet, breaking their legs and forgetting their parachutes as they tumble right out of the sky toward an uncertain end. It’s like someone is emptying their pockets over the earth and doesn’t seem to care where the contents fall, doesn’t seem to care that the raindrops burst when they hit the ground, that they shatter when they fall to the floor, that people curse the days the drops dare to tap on their doors.

I am a raindrop.

My parents emptied their pockets of me and left me to evaporate on a concrete slab.

Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ. Make it stop! The entire book is filled with gems like this, and it only succeeded in annoying me. I can understand a few quotable metaphors when the writing calls for it, but sometimes you just have to reign it in. No one cares if you’re a raindrop Juliette, suck it up and get your shit together.

I never thought I would find a character I hated more than Tris Pryor from Divergent, but Juliette takes the cake. While I could definitely sympathize with her character as being a product of her circumstances, there are definitely two types of people that emerge from that kind of abuse. The first is someone passive who lets their experiences and shortcomings define who they are as a person and are unable to do anything but dwell on the negative. The second is someone who, despite their experiences, channels their fear and insecurity into strength and determination to change their circumstances. Unfortunately for us, Juliette shows more of the former rather than the latter.

Juliette was so melodramatic and insecure about everything. We couldn’t go two sentences without blushing, crying, whining, freezing, gasping, or trembling. Yes, I get that she’s been locked in an insane asylum for being bat-shit crazy, but couldn’t we have just left her there? She clearly isn’t the hero we need. The only redeeming quality to her character is Adam, her love interest, who gets her to finally start valuing herself as a person. Unfortunately, any character development we get from Juliette is not done because she wants to change, but rather because she wants to change for Adam.

And what a bizarre and needy romance they had. When we first meet Adam, he is Juliette’s new roommate at the nut house. While we find out later that he has been in love with her since they were children and has made it his life’s mission to find her and keep her safe, he begins this relationship by stealing her bed and forcing her to sleep on the floor. *Swoon* Somehow, we are supposed to believe that he feels this strongly about her without ever speaking or interacting with her prior to this. We are also supposed to believe that Juliette has felt the same way for just as long, but doesn’t recognize the love of her life when he enters her cell. She can also touch him without murdering him, How convenient! which leads to a very weird shower scene where they profess their love for one another. To be completely honest, I never felt like they actually loved each other, it was more like two teenagers with raging hormones. Juliette was so completely dependent on Adam that she was almost helpless without him. #Feminism Women have made such strides in the literary and cinematic world, and yet we still find cowering, pathetic Juliettes hanging around in today’s society. Insert eye roll here.

Another person she can conveniently touch without murdering is Warner, the villain. Warner is a sociopathic, homicidal maniac with mommy issues who wants to manipulate and possess Juliette for his own intents and purposes. *Swoon x2* He decides that the best way to get Juliette on his side is to have her beaten, force her to hurt others, casually terrorize her, and attempt to murder the person she loves. He is very confused when she doesn’t fall in love with him, because what could be more romantic than murder? Idk, probably flowers. Villains gotta vill, which is all well and good until Juliette pauses (on several occasions) to admire how handsome he is, how beautiful his eyes are, and how attractive his voice sounds. WTF?

Things get really fun when Juliette turns into the Hulk and starts smashing through walls. Building murder! I have no idea why or how this happens, but I found it so random and amusing. I’m not sure if we’re going to get an explanation for this in a later book, or if it was just for the sake of convenience. Probably convenience. 

At the end we join the X-Men. Juliette gets a spandex suit and is thoroughly admired/objectified by her male companions. No capes though. Thank God for Edna Mode.

Some convenient moments: both the love interest and the villain are immune to Juliette’s deadly touch, both Juliette and Adam were immune to radiation allowing them to escape from Warner’s Army of Skanks, a car with keys in the ignition and bags full of groceries was left behind just when Juliette and Adam needed it the most, and Juliette’s hulk smash powers enable her to break down steel doors when she needs to.

A particularly fun moment where I rolled my eyes so hard that they fell out of my head and now they’re rolling down the street: Juliette has been imprisoned for years, hasn’t seen the sunlight in ages, and has been provided with very minimal hygienic supplies and food. Yet, somehow, she looks like a supermodel and captures the attention of every male in the book. Not only this, but she hasn’t looked into a mirror for 3 years and doesn’t know what color her own eyes are. Girl. Seriously? 

While this book definitely kept my attention though out, I probably won’t read the sequel.

I’ll read the sequel if I get a free copy. 

Clockwork Angel by Cassandra Clare

Title: Clockwork Angel (Infernal Devices #1)7171637
Author: Cassandra Clare
Pages: 479
Year: 2010
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Rating: 5/5

Goodreads Synopsis: In a time when Shadowhunters are barely winning the fight against the forces of darkness, one battle will change the course of history forever. Welcome to the Infernal Devices trilogy, a stunning and dangerous prequel to the New York Times bestselling Mortal Instruments series.

The year is 1878. Tessa Gray descends into London’s dark supernatural underworld in search of her missing brother. She soon discovers that her only allies are the demon-slaying Shadowhunters—including Will and Jem, the mysterious boys she is attracted to. Soon they find themselves up against the Pandemonium Club, a secret organization of vampires, demons, warlocks, and humans. Equipped with a magical army of unstoppable clockwork creatures, the Club is out to rule the British Empire, and only Tessa and her allies can stop them…

I have been putting off reading the Mortal Instruments and the Infernal Devices series since I started hearing about them in middle school. All of my friends had read them and loved them, but I just wasn’t interested. (I also have never read A Series of Unfortunate Events… please dispose of all pitchforks and torches at the door.) After spending way too much time on BookTube and hearing over and over and over again how these are everyone’s favorite books, I finally decided to see what the hype was about. Unfortunately, the books were really expensive on Kindle and I ended up putting them on my “wishlist” for months. A few weeks ago, I checked the prices and Clockwork Angel had gone down to $1.99. And so my watch began.

I sincerely apologize to the Shadowhunter fandom for blowing off this series for so long because this book was AMAZING. I was so impressed with the storytelling, but the background left a little to be desired. I learned that Cassandra Clare actually spent some time in England before writing this book, and even studied maps of London from the 1870’s. Some liberties are taken with the characters being Shadowhunters and operating in a version of London dominated by downworlders as well as humans, but I thought that they were believable as being product of the late 1800’s. However, I could have found a lot of the stuff she parroted in the story by spending 5 minutes on Wikipedia. It really didn’t feel like she put a ton of effort into researching the time period, and I felt that the story suffered as a result.

That plot twist at the end though… I usually know when a plot twist is coming before it even happens. I’m that annoying girl at the movies who points out the character that no one suspects and pegs him/her for the evil mastermind. Not this book. I was so thrown off by the big Magister reveal that I actually went back and re-read part of the book. I wasn’t completely convinced that it was De Quincy though. I thought that the real Magister was going to be someone more powerful, maybe even a Shadowhunter. I never suspected the underdog once!

I really liked all of the characters, I don’t think there was one that I thought needed some work or a more distinctive personality. Of course I fell in love with Will Herondale, resident bad boy and sarcastic asshole extraordinaire. He provided most of the comic relief in the book, which usually makes up the anatomy of my favorite characters. I actually found myself laughing out loud at this book at times, which is something I don’t usually do.

I know that there’s supposed to be some sort of love triangle between Jem, Will, and Tessa, but I didn’t feel like it was really a love triangle. It was more like Tessa pining after Will, Will pining after Tessa and being angry about it, and Jem pining after Tessa from the deepest darkest depths of the friend-zone. I really didn’t get any romantic vibe between Tessa and Jem at all. (I know that some people were all about Team Jem, but I just think there isn’t a contest here.) Jem is sweet, amicable, and everything everyone should want in a boyfriend (minus the addiction to demon drugs). But there wasn’t any spark! I hope that Jem ends up with Sophie, because she truly seems to love him and she deserves a good man in her life after being disfigured by the hash-slinging slasher. (#fuckboys Amiright)

We have Charlotte, a woman in the 1870’s (not the most powerful position to be in) who is running the Shadowhunter Institute at the ripe old age of 23. She is young and unsure, but she is kicking ass at her job. This accomplishment is undermined by Jessamine. Jessamine was the ultimate anti-feminist. Jessamine doesn’t even want to be a Shadowhunter, part of which I can understand because its really dangerous. But it’s in her blood! What frustrated me most about her was that she just refused to do anything. When everyone needed her help she was just like “Ladies don’t do that.” (Oh OK, you sit tight then.) She asks Tessa to move out of the academy with her so she can find a husband and get married. Then Tessa’s idiot brother shows up and she swoons over him like she’s never seen a boy before. Anyone else reminded of Anna from Frozen? (You can’t marry a man you just met!) All this ranting makes it sound like I hated her, which I didn’t. She was a product of her upbringing and the time period, so its not like she did anything particularly out of character. (Except when she Buffy the Vampire Slayer-ed that troll in the park. Ladies definitely don’t do that.)

Final thoughts: I have so many unanswered questions from reading this book! I can’t wait to see how the rest of the series plays out. Next stop, Clockwork Prince!