Book Review: Brave New Girl by Rachel Vincent

I’ve been reading a lot of WWII fiction lately, and decided to take a break and read something from the pile of ARCs that I picked up at SALC2017 courtesy of United Library Services. From the top of the pile I grabbed Brave New Girl by Rachel Vincent and IT WAS AMAZING! Seriously. If you love YA novels and the familiar ground of dystopian settings then you don’t want to miss out on this book this summer.


Brave new girl

Title: Brave New Girl

Author: Rachel Vincent

Publisher: Random House Children’s Books/ Delacorte Press

Publication Date: May 9, 2017

Genre: Literary Fiction, YA Fiction

Themes: Dystopian Future, Alternate Reality, Clones, Class Stratified Societies

Features: Teaser for Strange New World


My Rating: 4.5/ 5


Synopsis

From Rachelvincent.com 

Dahlia 16 is just one of five thousand girls created from a single genome to work for the greater good of the city. Meeting Trigger 17 changes everything for her, and when she can’t resist looking for him, even though that means breaking the rules, she realizes she’s flawed. And any genome found to be flawed will be recalled.

Destroyed.

Getting caught with Trigger would seal not only Dahlia’s fate, but that of all five thousand girls who share her face. But what if Trigger is right? What if Dahlia is different? Suddenly the girl who always follows the rules is breaking them, one by one by one. . . .


My Review

I tired to do the recommended professional thing where you take notes whist reading a book that you intend to review. Pretty sure I didn’t do it right, but the notes I remembered to take are below:

  • SO GOOD
  • Amazeballs

Yeah – that’s it (I will work on this note taking thing). And, the best part is that even after sleeping on it I still feel the same! I can’t say how much I loved this novel, and how well I hope it does.

The only reason that I didn’t give this baby a 5 star review is because it covers a whole lot of familiar territory. The whole pretty girl has conflicting emotions, knows she is a danger to society, challenges the norms anyways and falls in love with a soldier thing has been done before. But, Vincent’s execution is playful, engaging, and different enough that in the end I really didn’t care. I can’t wait for the follow up novel, given the awesome plot twist and giant cliff hanger in the final pages there is so much room for this series to break away from the pack.

The writing was simple and engaging, and the characters were realistic personalities that I found easy to relate to. Not going to lie, I was rooting for Dahlia and Trigger before I realized what the implications would be! I enjoyed the focus on Dahlia’s internal conflict throughout the text and it was refreshing to see exploration and confusion without the heroine drowning in angst. A girl that can be beautiful, smart, compassionate and strong without having to first hate the world.

Given that this is a YA book I do think that there are some interesting lessons throughout such as an examination of class stratified societies, the commodification of human life, the existence and unfairness of double standards, the ethical and moral issues of cloning, and the need to logically question authority and versions of ‘truth’. I think that there could be some really great class and book club discussions as a result of this text. But, with deeper themes aside, you can focus on the surface level and enjoy a fun, face paced and gripping read.

The biggest challenge with reading this book as an ARC was that my copy didn’t have the teaser for Strange New World at the end, only a page saying ‘teaser to come’, . Which I need in my life. Like… now. I haven’t been this enthused about a YA series in a while and I think it’s going to make an amazing summer read for so, so many people regardless of age.

Would I recommend this book? Oh, heck yes! And you can be guaranteed that I will be lined up to get my hands on Strange New World when that comes out too!


Up Next: Sarah’s Key by Tatiana de Rosnay

Book Review: The German Girl by Armando Lucas Correa

I seem to be on a bit of role with WWII fiction, and have to admit that I was wholly unprepared for the experience of this novel and the horrors of history repeating itself once again in our current global climate. Another amazing read that I hope will lend a human touch to the current refugee crisis.


german girl

Title: The German Girl

Author: Armando Lucas Correa

Publisher: Atria Paperback/ Simon & Schuster, Inc.

Original Publication Date: October 16, 2016

Genre: Literary Fiction, Historical Fiction

Themes: WWII, Nazi Germany, Holocaust, Refugee Settlement, Religious Persecution

Features: Bibliography, Historical photographs and documents


My Rating: 4/ 5


Synopsis

From Simon & Schuster, Inc. 

A stunningly ambitious and beautiful novel, perfect for fans of The Nightingale, Schindler’s List, and All the Light We Cannot See, about twelve-year-old Hannah Rosenthal’s harrowing experience fleeing Nazi-occupied Germany with her family and best friend, only to discover that the overseas asylum they had been promised is an illusion.

Before everything changed, young Hannah Rosenthal lived a charmed life. But now, in 1939, the streets of Berlin are draped with red, white, and black flags; her family’s fine possessions are hauled away; and they are no longer welcome in the places that once felt like home. Hannah and her best friend, Leo Martin, make a pact: whatever the future has in store for them, they’ll meet it together.

Hope appears in the form of the SS St. Louis, a transatlantic liner offering Jews safe passage out of Germany. After a frantic search to obtain visas, the Rosenthals and the Martins depart on the luxurious ship bound for Havana. Life on board the St. Louis is like a surreal holiday for the refugees, with masquerade balls, exquisite meals, and polite, respectful service. But soon ominous rumors from Cuba undermine the passengers’ fragile sense of safety. From one day to the next, impossible choices are offered, unthinkable sacrifices are made, and the ship that once was their salvation seems likely to become their doom.

Seven decades later in New York City, on her twelfth birthday, Anna Rosen receives a strange package from an unknown relative in Cuba, her great-aunt Hannah. Its contents will inspire Anna and her mother to travel to Havana to learn the truth about their family’s mysterious and tragic past, a quest that will help Anna understand her place and her purpose in the world.

The German Girl sweeps from Berlin at the brink of the Second World War to Cuba on the cusp of revolution, to New York in the wake of September 11, before reaching its deeply moving conclusion in the tumult of present-day Havana. Based on a true story, this masterful novel gives voice to the joys and sorrows of generations of exiles, forever seeking a place called home.


My Review

Initially, I made note that this book was slow to start and it was only after getting well through Part 2 that I realized that it wasn’t the book that was slow – it was me. There is no way around it, but dealing with several wars and multiple instances of religious subjugation in a single novel is some pretty heavy reading. It was taking me a lot longer to digest the information that I anticipated and I was getting frustrated with my unusually slow reading pace. However, once I adjusted to the tone and tempo of Correa’s writing, I quickly discovered that it was nearly impossible to set The German Girl Down.

Correa’s attention to every little detail, from research and historical accuracy to make up and architecture, establishes an unshakable sense of time, place, and public atmosphere. I couldn’t help but feel the fear, hopelessness, and ever closing oppression experienced by the Rosenthal family, and Hannah’s overwhelming confusion as to why her family was being treated in such a way.

Seeing these events through the eyes of a child served to soften the mood, added snippets of humour, and offered glimpses of hope for the future when it seemed like all hope was irrecoverably lost. I loved the infusion of childish imagination, the labeling of various oppressors as Ogres, and (most importantly) the love and adoration with which Hannah and Anna view their parents. Seriously though, I have some of my grandmother’s gowns from 40s and Correa’s elegant descriptions of The Goddess really made me want to go and play some serious adult dress up! I could picture each person, their clothing, and every detail of the setting so clearly with every scene. His writing was some beautiful food for the imagination, and I was happy to let mine run wild.

 

It took some time for the alternating narration and jumping through eras to come together, but the effect was that of continual threads spanning across generations to create a single, unified story. The continuous repetition of key details, events and behaviours helped to pull the two girls stories together, and left me hungry to see what each minute detail would mean in the future. This is not a book that can be read casually, or with a movie running in the background, it demands your attention (and all of it) because missing the littlest of details will leave you lost and wondering in the future.

Some have argued that ending is too melodramatic, and in my first draft of this review I even agreed. But, in letting the book as a whole sink in, I actually rather like it – every detail has a meaning and purpose, and the drama befits history and essence of the Rosenthal/ Strauss family. The only complaint that I have with how this book ends is that I NEED to know the stories of those who remained on the St. Louis.

 

The most important part of this experience, however, is that I learned something new. As a Canadian, I never knew that our government had been one of the many that turned the St. Louis away. Interestingly enough, I was taught in school about Cuba and U.S.A. refusing the ship, but never about Canada’s contribution in returning over 900 souls to a nation on the brink of genocide. The German Girl, while fiction, served as a necessary reminder that true History isn’t just the official version written in text books, but that is those memories and experiences that our leaders and governments would specifically like us to forget.

Would I recommend this book? Absolutely. But there is some real grit between the pages,  so I might not suggest it to someone looking for a quick and happy read. The German Girl is beautiful, haunting, and devastatingly realistic. Wrapped up in nostalgia, enduring friendships and heartbreak Correa’s debut novel is a not-so-subtle remained that we have to pay attention to the past in order to avoid repeating it – and it is definitely worth a read!


Up Next: Brave New Girl by Rachel Vincent

Book Review: The Orphan’s Tale by Pam Jenhoff

I love this book, so much, and I couldn’t imagine a better way to start off the posting for this book blog!


Orphan's Tale

Title: The Orphan’s Tale

Author: Pam Jenhoff

Publisher: Mira

Original Release Date: February 21, 2017

Genre: Literary Fiction, Historical Fiction

Themes: WWII, Nazi Germany, Circuses, Courage

Features: Reader’s Guide included, Excerpt from The Kommandant’s Daughter included

 


My Rating: 4.5/ 5


Synopsis

From Goodreads.

A powerful novel of friendship set in a traveling circus during World War II, The Orphan’s Tale introduces two extraordinary women and their harrowing stories of sacrifice and survival .

Sixteen-year-old Noa has been cast out in disgrace after becoming pregnant by a Nazi soldier and being forced to give up her baby. She lives above a small rail station, which she cleans in order to earn her keep… When Noa discovers a boxcar containing dozens of Jewish infants bound for a concentration camp, she is reminded of the child that was taken from her. And in a moment that will change the course of her life, she snatches one of the babies and flees into the snowy night.

Noa finds refuge with a German circus, but she must learn the flying trapeze act so she can blend in undetected, spurning the resentment of the lead aerialist, Astrid. At first rivals, Noa and Astrid soon forge a powerful bond. But as the facade that protects them proves increasingly tenuous, Noa and Astrid must decide whether their friendship is enough to save one another—or if the secrets that burn between them will destroy everything.


My Review…

I was walking through Costco, yes Costco, looking for something to treat myself with once I had completed my MLIS and I came across a number of novels that made a nice little WWII collection and I couldn’t resist. Having a) volunteered as a palaeographer deciphering cursive for war-time immigration records and b) also having performed in a circus for a number of years (German Wheel and Lyra if you care to know) The Orphan’s Tale immediately caught my eye.

I was immediately drawn in from the first few pages as the tone was so approachable and the voice so personal that I found it difficult to put the book down. I never once felt  like there was a lull in the action, or that too much time was spent setting up for major events as the typical slow spots were replaced by gut wrenching memories. The prose is simple, accessible, and easy to engage with and the narration alternating between Noa and Astrid keeps the tempo quick (and me on the edge of my seat).

Jenhoff’s intimate knowledge of the Holocaust and the depth of her research into the circus industry really shines through. She has created a narrative that is not only captivating but also genuine and authentic. Drawing on the real stories of the Unknown Children and Circus Althoff, this narrative feels almost too real. The effective is beautiful, haunting, heart warming and heart breaking all at the same time. Also, Noa’s emotions and pain when she hits the safety net, spot-freaking-on.

Finally, without giving too much away, I would like to take a moment to appreciate that there is no neat-and-tidy happy ending. The losses and questions left looming beget the time and circumstances of the setting and really help to drive home the magnitude of simply surviving. I was touched by the redemption to be found in a most despised character and the acknowledgement that some experiences will continue to haunt us regardless of how hard we try to leave those parts of us behind. Too often a good story is lost when all loose ends are tied up, sometimes in the most awkward ways, and thank goodness The Orphan’s Tale didn’t fall into that trap!

Would I recommend reading this book? Heck yes! Go buy it, borrow it from a friend, check it out from the library or hit that trusty download button. I don’t care how you do it, this is one book that you don’t want to miss!

 


Up Next: The German Girl by Armando Lucas Correa

 

Out of the frying pan… and into the fire

So, this is it. After years of reading book blogs, slogging through an MLIS, and constantly passing my precious books out amongst friends I have finally taken the plunge and decided to give my own book blog an honest try. Sure, I know that there are tons of book blogs out there and endless internet famous reviewers bot sometimes it’s worth it to do things anyways.

The idea is this – read books (lots of them), maybe even watch a few movie adaptations, and then attempt to write reviews that balance those dry professional assessments with my personal interpretations to put forward something a little bit more useful than my own aesthetic. It sounds simple enough, but I know that I have my work cut out for me!

As for the type of books that I’ll be reviewing, I love everything. Seriously. Fiction, non-fiction, crime, thrillers, classical literature, YA, dystopian futures, and the list goes on. I basically stay away from children’s and picture books, as well as harlequin romance and other works that could be classed in the same categories. Perhaps over time we will find that a direction develops for the genre of books that I review, but for now I am keeping the spectrum broad.

I’m not perfect, this I know. I type fast, make mistakes, and sometimes I’m too lazy to edit and review. But I’m trying. And for now I’m going to say that’s all that counts. But, I will also say that I thrive off constructive criticism (no flaming please!), am always open to suggestions (for both book recommendations and content adjustments), and will strive to create blog that can genuinely be enjoyed by whatever audience I manage to attract.

And so… It’s out of the frying pan and into the fire for me!

– J.M.

Up Next: The Orphan’s Tale by Pam Jenhoff