Review: The German Girl by Armando Lucas Correa

29430755*I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.*

Title: The German Girl

Author: Armando Lucas Correa

Publisher: Atria Books

Publication Date: October 18, 2016

ISBN: 9781501121142

The German Girl: A Novel

Synopsis from Goodreads:
In 1939 before everything changed, Hannah Rosenthal lived a charmed life. Her family moved in Berlin’s highest social circles, admired by friends and neighbors. Now the streets of Berlin are draped with red, white, and black flags; their fine possessions are hauled away, and they are no longer welcome in the places that once felt like home. The two friends make a pact: come what may, they promise to have a future together. After a frantic search to obtain visas, the Rosenthals and the Martins depart from Hamburg on the luxurious passenger liner bound for Havana. Life aboard the ship is a welcome respite from the gloom of Berlin—filled with masquerade balls, dancing, and exquisite meals every night. But soon reports from the outside world began to filter in, and dark news overshadows the celebratory atmosphere on the ship; the governments of Cuba, the United States, and Canada are denying the passengers of the St. Louis admittance to their countries, forcing them to return to Europe as it descends into the Second World War. The ship that had seemed their salvation seems likely to become their death sentence. 

Decades later in New York City on her eleventh birthday, Anna Rosen receives a mysterious envelope from Hannah, a great-aunt she has never met but who raised her deceased father. In an attempt to piece together her father’s mysterious past, Anna and her mother travel to Havana to meet Hannah, who is turning eighty-seven years old. Hannah reveals old family ties, recounts her journey aboard the Saint Louis and, for the first time, reveals what happened to her father and Leo. Bringing together the pain of the past with the mysteries of the present, Hannah gives young Anna a sense of their shared histories, forever intertwining their lives, honoring those they loved and cruelly lost.

You can’t help but love the two girls, Hannah and Anna, whose stories are so closely linked, but are separated by decades and eras. They are family but their lives and upbringing are worlds apart. Hannah is a refugee who’s family fled from Nazi-occupied Germany. She lost her life, friends, family, and everything she’d every known about herself. Anna is her great-niece who lost her father before she was even born, who doesn’t know her past or her history, but as she blossoms into a woman, she comes to know her story.

Correa has a very smooth voice and writing style that makes this story flow quickly, but allows the reader to savour each word. He connects us to these two eras, 1930s Germany/20th-Century Cuba, and 21st Century America. His novel is the tale of a family that lost themselves, and years later, they discover once again who they are. A lost name becomes a name reclaimed with pride in the end. Fear gives way to hope for the future.

I thought that the young girls were the most realistic and well-rounded characters, which makes sense because the stories are told from their perspectives. The adults in the story take a backseat. We understand them through the eyes of the children in an honest, yet limited way. Their voices are full of the innocence of childhood but as they, especially Hannah, matures we see her grow into a more complex women, although when we see her from Anna’s perspective, that distance between child and adult is established once again.

I was quite please with this story. It fits right in with the historical fiction kick that I’ve been on lately. It was easy to read and takes a new perspective on World War Two–one that I hadn’t read before. I would definitely recommend! I gave this book 4 out of 5 stars.

Review: The Smoke Hunter by Jacquelyn Benson

28164650*I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.*

Title: The Smoke Hunter

Author: Jacquelyn Benson

Publisher: Grand Central Publishing

Publication Date: September 13, 2016

ISBN: 9781455569069

The Smoke Hunter
Synopsis from Goodreads:
London, 1898. Archivist Eleanora Mallory discovers a map to a legendary city . But is it the key to unravelling an ancient mystery or a clever hoax? Compelled to find out, Ellie journeys to Central America – with a merciless enemy hot on her heels. In a race to uncover the map’s secret first, Ellie is forced to partner with maverick archaeologist Adam Bates, a man she’s not sure she can trust. Together, they venture into an uncharted wilderness alive with smoke and shadows, where an even greater danger awaits them. For what lies there whispering to be unearthed has the power to bring the world to its knees.
 Ellie is trying to establish her career in a time where women can’t vote. The expectation is that she marry, but that would result in her no longer being able to work. That’s an option that she is not willing to put up with. She is lead across the world on an adventure to discover an impossible world, a trip that completely changes her life.
I love that Ellie is a take-charge kind of girl in a time where women are not widely accepted in the professional realm, especially in a position that takes her out into the wild. Ellie wants to discover the world and all its secret. She’s not afraid to speak her mind and take control of her situation. She’s inventive. She also has her flaws, she doesn’t think before she speaks and she doesn’t always consider all the risks before she acts. I love that she’s imperfect.
The villains are a bit typical. They are minions of an unseen forces who’s funding their expedition, ready to draw guns and eliminate threats at the drop of a hat. They’re all stock characters, but it adds a fun hokeyness to the story. It kind of reminds me of a Disney-esque adventure story. It doesn’t take away from the story in any way. In fact, it makes the story all the more enjoyable. It’s a fun read!

Review: Crossing the Horizon by Laurie Notaro

26154388*I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.*

Title:  Crossing the Horizon

Author: Laurie Notaro

Publisher: Gallery Books

Publication Date: October 4, 2016

ISBN: 9781451659405

Crossing the Horizon: A Novel

Synopsis from Goodreads:
Ten thousand feet in the sky, flipping and twirling through the air, aviatrixes from London to Paris to New York—fueled by determination and courage—have their eyes on the century’s biggest prize. The year is 1927, and Amelia Earhart has not yet made her record-breaking cross-Atlantic flight. Who will follow in Charles Lindbergh’s footsteps and make her own history? Three women’s names are splashed daily across the front page: Elsie Mackay, daughter of an Earl, is the first Englishwoman to get her pilot’s license. Mabel Boll, a glamorous society darling and former cigar girl, is ardent to make the historic flight. Beauty pageant contestant Ruth Elder uses her winnings for flying lessons and becomes the preeminent American girl of the sky.

This was a great book about women making their way in the world of aviation at the cusp of the fight for women’s rights and a changing time for women across the world. Inspired by true events and real, brave, incredible women, it’s a race against time, vying for the position of the first women to cross the great Atlantic and achieve the impossible I fell in love with the characters of Ruth and Elsie, who let nobody stand in their way. They give up everything they love and know in the world for an uncertain future and a shot at changing history.

I thought that the characters were a little flat. The story focused more on the action rather than characterization, which for me, is a bit of a mark against a book. I did really love the story. It’s an thrilling time for women and for aviation and it’s not a story that I’ve really read before. It introduces us vaguely to Amelia Earhart and I can only hope that Notaro writes another novel in the future to expand on Earhart’s expedition. By focusing only on the action, it drives the readers focus to the race. It highlights the hopes of the women fighting to be the first women to cross the great ocean and drawn attention to their frustrations and their deep desire to get off the ground. I would have liked to get to know the characters more in depth, but it’s still a good story without that character exploration.

I loved that the story was accompanied by real photos of these women and their pilots. It brought the whole story to a new level, adding that reality to fiction. The stories add faces to the names of each women, showing their spark and pizzazz. Their all vivacious and full of life in their pictures. I thought it was a great way to highlight the story. All in all, I was entertained by Notaro’s novel and really enjoyed reading a new story that I’d not explored before.


Review: The Last Days of Night by Graham Moore

28363972*I received this book from the publisher in exchanged for an honest review.*

Title: The Last Days of Night

Author: Graham Moore

Publisher: Random House

Publication Date: September 2016

ISBN: 9780812988901

The Last Days of Night
Synopsis from Goodreads:
New York, 1888. Gas lamps still flicker in the city streets, but the miracle of electric light is in its infancy. The person who controls the means to turn night into day will make history—and a vast fortune. A young untested lawyer named Paul Cravath, fresh out of Columbia Law School, takes a case that seems impossible to win. Paul’s client, George Westinghouse, has been sued by Thomas Edison over a billion-dollar question: Who invented the light bulb and holds the right to power the country? The case affords Paul entry to the heady world of high society—the glittering parties in Gramercy Park mansions, and the more insidious dealings done behind closed doors. The task facing him is beyond daunting. Edison is a wily, dangerous opponent with vast resources at his disposal—private spies, newspapers in his pocket, and the backing of J. P. Morgan himself. Yet this unknown lawyer shares with his famous adversary a compulsion to win at all costs. How will he do it?
It wasn’t surprising to me that this thrilling 19th-century thrilling race to invention is written by the same writer who brought us The Imitation Game. The voice and unfolding of this story is so reminiscent of the movie staring Benedict Cumberbatch. It’s refreshing to read an exciting historical fiction that takes place at the cusp of the 20th-century, during the period of incredible minds and unbelievable transitions in technology.
Moore’s story brings together the greatest minds of the 1890s: Edison, Tesla, Westinghouse. These men of invention are part of the great technological race. Who can harness the electricity and bring it to the whole of society. They are part of a period of time that will change everything for humanity. At the heart of this brutal race is lawyer Paul Cravath. At the beginning of his career he is chosen to defeat the undefeatable.
Paul’s romance is a side story that’s not entirely necessary, but it adds something that the reading public loves. The love interest, Agnes Huntington, is full of secrets and surprises of her own making her an must more intricate and three dimensional character. Paul is frequently described as a prodigy in the field of law, a fact which after finishing the book, I have yet to believe. He’s a strong character, but there are a few characters attributes, such as his ability to succeed, that I would have like to see fleshed out a bit more.
I thoroughly enjoyed this story. It’s different than a lot of the other stories I’ve seen coming out this year, and that in itself is a very pleasant surprise. Moore writes an excellent story that is vivid. He paints a bright picture of the 19th-century, bringing his characters and his story to life.

Review: Here I Am by Jonathan Safran Foer

31434269*I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.*

Title: Here I Am

Author: Jonathan Safran Foer

Publisher: Hamish Hamilton Canada

Publication Date: September 6, 2016

ISBN: 9780735232938

Here I Am

Synopsis from Goodreads:
How do we fulfill our conflicting duties as father, husband, and son; wife and mother; child and adult? Jew and American? How can we claim our own identities when our lives are linked so closely to others’? These are the questions at the heart of Jonathan Safran Foer’s first novel in eleven years–a work of extraordinary scope and heartbreaking intimacy. Unfolding over four tumultuous weeks in present-day Washington D.C., Here I Am is the story of a fracturing family in a moment of crisis. As Jacob and Julia and their three sons are forced to confront the distances between the lives they think they want and the lives they are living, a catastrophic earthquake sets in motion a spiraling conflict in the Middle East. At stake is the very meaning of home–and the fundamental question of how much life one can bear.

What an emotional rollercoaster of a novel. Foer has always been one of my favourite authors. I was a bit hesitant about this novel. I’ve never really read a story quite like this before, however I was pleasantly surprised. This novel is moving, charged, and wrought with tension. It’s tragic, showing both the thoughts and motivations behind each characters, particularly husband and wife, Jacob and Julia, but also the decision they make, whether to following their instincts and shy away. Characters resist their impulses, driving more and more distance between themselves and the ones they love. Amid their personal issues, the world quite literally is falling apart. This American Jewish family must watch as Isreal falls victim to natural disaster and then political threat.

This novel was sad, but incredibly moving. It’s thought provoking and really hits the tough questions about marriage, family, love, friendship, extramarital affairs, and so much more. Nothing about these characters’ lives is easy. Jacob and Julia have 3 children, the oldest of whom is approaching manhood quickly. He’s learning to understand himself and his connections with others, both familial and romantic.

I found a few things to be unnecessarily explicit, which for me, unless it has a purpose, is completely extraneous. This felt like a tool meant more to shock than anything else and really did little to drive the plot. The graphic nature of the text messages help to convey the shock and pain that rocks the couple to the core, but it also goes too far in some instances in my personal opinion. If it doesn’t move the story forward, it’s not a necessity.

However, overall, it’s a witty, exciting, intelligent dialogue on family relationships. Foer’s style of writing is forever changing, keeping the experience of consuming his story very interesting. He keeps his reader engaged. He’s consistent and presents his story in an incredibly strong way. He subverts expectation in ways that are surprising and thoroughly enjoyable. Here I Am will not disappoint.

Review: Swarm by Scott Westerfeld

23989925*I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.*

Title: Swarm (Zeroes #2)

Authors: Scott Westerfeld, Margo Lanagan, and Deborah Biancotti

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Publication Date: September 27, 2016

ISBN:  9781471124914

Swarm (Zeroes, #2)

Synopsis from Goodreads:
They thought they’d already faced their toughest fight. But there’s no relaxing for the reunited Zeroes. These six teens with unique abilities have taken on bank robbers, drug dealers and mobsters. Now they’re trying to lay low so they can get their new illegal nightclub off the ground. But the quiet doesn’t last long when two strangers come to town, bringing with them a whole different kind of crowd-based chaos. And hot on their tails is a crowd-power even more dangerous and sinister. Up against these new enemies, every Zero is under threat. Mob is crippled by the killing-crowd buzz—is she really evil at her core? Flicker is forced to watch the worst things a crowd can do. Crash’s conscience—and her heart—get a workout. Anon and Scam must both put family loyalties on the line for the sake of survival. And Bellwether’s glorious-leader mojo deserts him. Who’s left to lead the Zeroes into battle against a new, murderous army?

I will confess, I’m not sure why I didn’t realized, but I did not know that this was book two in a series. Silly me! That being said, there was hardly any need for me to read book one, and going back now would merely be out of curiosity. Book one, I believe, would probably provide me with a better understanding of characters and how they came to be who they are–their development so to speak, but these authors do a wonderful job of providing enough information about how the characters got to be where they are so that I was fully informed of the story up until this point.

I’m glad of this series, because after reading Westerfeld’s last novel, Afterworlds, I was so disappointed. I’m a huge fan of his Uglies series and this last novel was a huge let down for me. But he’s back in business with Swarm! It’s an excellent collaborative work. I’m not often a fan of YA novels with multiple authors, but this one is quite cohesive and compelling. The story is strong, the characters are diverse and very interesting. Their powers are completely fascinating.

The only thing I would have enjoyed seeing more of–and again this may be something that I missed out on in book one–is reading about the characters practicing their powers. They do this to some extent in Swarm however, it’s minimal and I would have loved to see the authors touch on it a bit more. I always enjoyed reading about characters who are working on self development to further their story and their quests.

This is definitely a series that I’d encourage YA readers to try out. I very much enjoyed it.

Review: The Spawning Ground

28185966*I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.*

Title: The Spawning Grounds

Author: Gail Anderson-Dargatz

Publisher: Knopf Canada

Publication Date: September 6, 2016

ISBN: 9780345810816

The Spawning Grounds
Synopsis from Goodreads:
On one side of the river is a ranch once owned by Eugene Robertson, who came in the gold rush around 1860, and stayed on as a homesteader. On the other side is a Shuswap community that has its own tangled history with the river–and the whites. At the heart of the novel are Hannah and Brandon Robertson, teenagers who have been raised by their grandfather after they lost their mother. As the novel opens, the river is dying, its flow reduced to a trickle, and Hannah is carrying salmon past the choke point to the spawning grounds while her childhood best friend, Alex, leads a Native protest against the development further threatening the river. When drowning nearly claims the lives of both Hannah’s grandfather and her little brother, their world is thrown into chaos. Hannah, Alex, and most especially Brandon come to doubt their own reality as they are pulled deep into Brandon’s numinous visions, which summon the myths of Shuswap culture and tragic family stories of the past.
The Spawning Grounds explores various relationship: between the Shuswap community and the white developers; between Hannah, her brother, Brandon, and their father; between the living and the spirit world; and so many others. This natural and visceral novel is full of spiritual understanding and acceptance. It passes stories and myth down from generation to generation. In tandem with these stories, the natural land belonging to the Shuswap community faces potential destruction.  This place of peace, nature, and spirit is at risk of disappearing at the hands of white developers. Amidst this threat, Hannah risks losing her brother to something eerily similar to what took her mother from her when she was young.
Anderson-Dargatz brings a very beautiful, complex world to life in her novel. The characters struggle to understand and accept the supernatural, spirit world that has intersected with their own. Alex bring forth the teachings and uninhibited belief in the river and salmon spirits. Hannah battles her affection and trust in Alex with her education and her ideas and her secular upbringing. Their father returns after many years away and struggles to gain the trust of his family. His relationship with his family and the people in the town is incredible complicated.
I didn’t find this novel hugely exciting, however it is breathtaking in it’s description of the land and the stories of the past. I found it a little slow moving, however the characters are intricate and compelling. It’s a wonderful Canadian story that shares the wonder of our land and our history. I quite enjoyed this novel overall.