Tag Archives: travel

All The Light We Cannot See

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“Open your eyes and see what you can with them before they close forever.”

All The Light We Cannot See is one of the most beautiful novels I’ve ever read about WWII. Doerr has an amazing knack of capturing morality and humanity and holding it in his palms while things play out. You can tell that he meticulously researched this novel and yet it’s so incredibly readable. The chapters are short and oscillate between the two main characters, Marie-Laure and Werner. The oscillating keeps the story in constant motion and keeps the reader on their toes. Through the flashbacks and switching of years and characters, the story begins to emerge in starts and stops. You get to see the growth and stagnation of certain characters and the impact they have on this story.

Both brutal and beautiful, All The Light We Cannot See made me think, wonder, and cry. I became so attached to the characters I couldn’t put the book down. I had to know how the story was going to play out and how the two main characters lives were going to interconnect. At first I thought the characters were going down one specific path but, as it turned out, I was wrong. Their certain paths seem almost predetermined but Doerr throws in some surprises. Werner, the mechanical genius with the need to belong, fights his basic nature to be part of the Hitler youth movement until a major event shocks him back to himself. Marie-Laure, a young Parisian girl who has lost her sight, relies exclusively on her father until he is turned in by a neighbor and arrested. Then Marie-Laure must figure out how to navigate life without him. When these two incredible people connect it’s wondrous. The scenes still bring tears to my eyes as I type this.

This review can’t be complete without mention of the Sea of Flames, the diamond that perhaps caused all the ruckus? I loved how Doerr toyed with the idea of fate and our perceptions of objects and how that perception can change worlds. This diamond is said to be cursed. Anyone who holds it will live forever but the people around him will perish. “That something so small could be so beautiful. Worth so much. Only the strongest people can turn away from feelings like that.” Men fight wars over this diamond and this diamond is the glue of this story.

Rating: 5/5 Please go out and find a copy of this novel.

Stay tuned for the next installment of Book Battle 2015. Happy reading!

Into the Wild

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into the wild

“I now walk into the wild” are the last words that Chris McCandless sent his friend Wayne Westerberg before trekking into the Alaskan wilderness. It’s hard not to be touched in some way by McCandless’s story. Yes he was impetuous, naive, and heedless of the dangers he was facing, but he was also an idealist searching for some kind of meaning in life. Like many people before him, John Muir most notably, he was searching for an answer in nature. Being young myself, I can identify a lot with McCandless. Death seems so remote you don’t even consider it. There’s no way anything bad could ever happen to you. You’re young and have everything ahead of you.

I’m sure in some ways this was McCandless’s thought pattern as well. He was so convinced of his own intellect and knew that he could make it. He had never failed at anything he had tried before and had always been praised for his intelligence and unwavering beliefs. He was a self made outcast. He shed society’s layers as best as he could only to realize that “happiness is best when shared.” I’m a firm believer that it’s the people around us that help us lead a full and satisfying life. It’s people that push us to grow and change in ways that we might not left to our own devices.

One of my favorite aspects of this novel was how thoroughly Krakauer looked into the history of travelers like McCandless. I couldn’t believe that so many people have walked into the wild never to walk out again. There are tales of teens disappearing in the desert, a climber vanishing in the mountains of Alaska, and British soldiers from the 1800’s dying in the arctic. I think in some way everyone is interested in what’s out there. That’s why we travel to other places to discover new things, people, and cultures. Most of us just travel from city to city instead of into the wilds. But we’re all bitten by some kind of wanderlust, an interest in things outside of ourselves.

There are many decisions that McCandless made heedlessly, as many before him had done. Yet, he was not one of the lucky ones. He didn’t survive his trek into the wild. The odds were stacked against him. Yet he made an impact on the world through what he left behind. After reading Krakauer’s novel I feel like I got to personally know McCandless and see a bit into his heart.

Rating: 5/5 Such a compelling, albeit tragic, story.

Stay tuned for the next installment of Book Battle 2015.

Going On A Journey

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Next up in Book Battle 2015 is a novel based on a true story. I was so overwhelmed with all of the available options for this category. I could not make up my mind. It seemed like every day I found another novel that would fit this category and sounded intriguing. I went back and forth, rearranging my list, trying to figure out where to plug in a specific novel and what to take out. I finally decided on Jon Krakauer’s Into the Wild. I’ve heard really great things about this novel and Krakauer’s writing. And, best of all, the library had many copies of this book.

From the book jacket, and what I’ve heard, this is a novel about a young man’s search for meaning in his life. He leaves everything he has and has ever known behind and begins his journey. He travels all over the United States and eventually ends up in Denali National Park, where his body is found by fellow travelers.

I can’t wait to read this novel and see what the hype is about. Everyone I’ve mentioned it to has amazing things to say about this novel and Krakauer’s other novels. Stay tuned for the full review of Into the Wild. Happy reading!

Siege and Storm

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Siege and Storm is the second volume in Leigh Bardugo’s Grisha Trilogy. The novel picks up right where Shadow and Bone left off. Alina and Mal are on the run on the True Sea trying to figure out their next move. Unfortunately, “like calls to like.” Alina and Mal are soon captured by the Darkling and his Grisha and forced on the Darkling’s boat. The Darkling has demanded that Mal track the next of Morozova’s amplifiers, Rusalye the ancient ice dragon, to further take control of Aline and magnify her power dual fold. When things seems dire, Alina and Mal are saved by an unlikely ally, a privateer with dubious morals named Stormhond, and his Shu Han crew, Tamar and Tolya. On Sturmhond’s ship, Mal continues to track Rusalye. Determined to save Ravka from the Darkling and his desire to increase and control the Shadow Fold, Alina kills the ancient Rusalye and takes the power for her own. She now has the collar and a new fetter.

After landing, the privateer reveals his true colors, he is the youngest Prince of Ravka. His identity revealed they make their way to the Little Palace, a full circle for Alina, and plan their attack on the Darkling. Unfortunately, Alina can’t stay away from the Darkling for long. She begins to see him in her dreams and waking nightmares, lurking around every corner. The collar at her throat connecting the two.

Much of this second novel is spent trying to build up an army to fight the Darkling, as well as, Alina’s growing need to find the third mysterious amplifier of Morozova to increase her power. Alina is no longer the confused girl of the first novel, unaccustomed to her new power and trying to find her place in the Grisha world. She is now owning her powers to the point of total consumption. She knows she is the one in control and begins to act much more like a leader than a follower. She is controlling her army of Grisha and sets the rules and standards for them.

For me, some of this novel did drag a bit. Though I thought overall it was much better in ways than the first. The second novel continues to follow Alina and you see character growth from every character. There is a lot more at stake in the second novel now that Alina knows where she fits into the grand scheme of things. The ending of this novel was my absolute favorite. I loved the imagery of the fallen idol projecting her own rebirth. There will be much more loss, pain, and glory to come for Alina in Ruin and Rising. 

Stay tuned for the final novel in the Grisha Trilogy. Happy Reading!

Shadow and Bone

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Ravka has been divided for centuries by what is known as The Fold. The Fold is a land of nightmares and shadows with creatures called volcra, a mix in my mind between a giant raven and a vulture. The Fold was created by a man known as the Black Heretic and has since ruled the way the country is run. Set in a kind of pre-revolutionary Russian state, Shadow and Bone is the first novel in the Grisha trilogy by Leigh Bardugo.

I have to say that I liked this novel a lot. Many of the reviews I’ve seen thus far about this book and the trilogy as a whole have been either loved it or hated it. There doesn’t seem to be much middle ground for these books. I really like the mix of Russian history in the novel and the folklore. I really enjoyed trying to guess what part of Russia’s history the different characters represented. There’s pre-revolutionary Russia ruled by the autocrats, here the Lanstov’s, a mix of Lenin and Stalin era Russia with the Darkling and his fanatic followers, and a Rasputin type character in the Apparat. It was amazing the way Bardugo was able to blend and mix Russian history and create this fantasy world of Ravka. Not only does she bend and morph Russian history, she takes Russian folklore and creates something new and different. The Grisha and their centuries old powers, not magic exactly but more ingrained in them as a person. They practice what is called the small science, not creating but using what is already in the world to enhance their gifts. Creating magic in this world is soul destroying.

Most of the comments I’ve seen are in regards to the protagonist Alina Starkov, the savior of Ravka. Many think she fails as a heroine but I found her flaws refreshing. She’s a convincing teenage girl, just trying to fit in with those around her. In trying to fit in, she never realizes the power that she possesses. She has a great need to belong and the relationships she forges are for life, especially her relationship with Mal. She was never trained to rule or be a hero and, refreshingly in my mind, doesn’t magically become one once she realizes she has Grisha power. She has to be groomed and trained. So many of the fantasy YA heroes and heroines just magically become so sure of themselves and their powers. I really liked watching Alina grow into her own and second guess herself. She makes mistakes, some devastating, but manages to bounce back. She looks to those around her for guidance and has the foresight to rely on others for their expertise, not just her own. This doesn’t always go well but, again, it’s nice to see a heroine be able to make mistakes and be indecisive.

Shadow and Bone does still follow the typical YA fantasy formula but has enough intrigue, especially with the layers of Russian history, to keep me reading. I can’t wait to see what the next novel in the trilogy has in store for Alina, Mal, and the Darkling.

Stay tuned for the review of Siege and Storm. Happy reading!

Suddenly, Last Summer

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Suddenly, Last Summer

Suddenly, Last Summer is a play of predators and prey. Each circling the other trying to take stock of their surroundings and how best to play off and use the the other. The opening scene foreshadows perfectly how the rest of the play will unfold. In Sebastian Venable’s garden decorated with “massive tree flowers that suggest organs of a body, torn out, still glistening with undried blood.” Noises of screeching birds and hissing insects emanate form the garden, stirring up feelings of foreboding in the reader. That’s when we’re introduced to Mrs. Violet Venable, Sebastian’s mother. She’s talking to a Dr. Cukrowicz about a Miss Catherine Holly, the woman last seen with Sebastian before his death. Instead of taking his ill mother along on his travels, Sebastian took his cousin by marriage Catherine. While on vacation, Sebastian died mysteriously and Catherine has been spouting a damning story that Violet refuses to believe. She asks the doctor if a lobotomy will erase the story from her mind. He says that before he can decide he must interview Catherine and hear the story she has to tell.

This is when things get even hairier. The play is short but jam-packed with images and illusions. Nothing is quite as it seems and everything has a dual meaning. During Catherine’s story we learn a lot about cousin Sebastian and his mother that Violet would rather not have others know. Sebastian and his mother have a sort of Norma Norman Bates relationship. It’s symbiotic, each feeding off the other for something they need that’s definitely a tainted type of love. Even after his death, Violet wants to claim all of Sebastian and paints an image of him that she desires, no matter how truthful an image that is. She wants to believe he was a world class poet that did everything for his art. She’s created this image of Sebastian as more of a living art form than a mere human being.

Art plays a big part in the play. The art of deception and manipulation. In a way, Sebastian is devoured by his own art. He’s destroyed himself through his own ideas and proclivities. Sebastian uses those around him in whatever way suits him in the moment. He continually wants an entourage of adoring people around him but has a hard time acquiring them. That was what Catherine was for. She was there to acquire the people he wanted. She says in the play that Sebastian considered people to be treats. Some were delicious while other were vile.

I don’t want to spoil the play or the ending. This is a must read. It’s short but powerful. The scenes, just like the movie, will play around and around in your head while you try to piece together all of the images to form one cohesive whole. Just like Catherine is traumatized by the image of Sebastian’s death, I had a hard time putting the play out of my mind.

Rating: 5/5

Stay tuned for the next installment of Book Battle 2015.

Putting on a Show

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Putting on a Show

Next up in Book Battle 2015 is a play. There was no second guessing for me this time. I knew the play I wanted to read as I read the category for the first time. I saw the movie for Suddenly, Last Summer when I was in high school. My mom got me hooked on classic movies from an early age. I remember staying up late at night watching TCM with her. This movie, in particular, has always stuck with me because it was so jarring. It terrified me in a way, much like The Innocents based on Henry James’s short story The Turn of the Screw. The movie was so psychologically unnerving, dealing with the thin line between reality and fantasy, keeping you on the edge of your seat. I have the image of Elizabeth Taylor screaming as birds fly by on this white hot strip of asphalt forever stuck in my head. As well as Katherine Hepburn wheeling a wheelchair through a lush tropical garden.

It’s because I remember scenes from this movie so vividly that I decided to read the play. The fact that Tennessee Williams is one of the greatest playwrights of his generation is definitely an added bonus. Stay tuned to see how the movie stacks up to the play. Happy reading!

Mind Traveling

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Mind Traveling

Next up in Book Battle 2015 is a novel set in a place you’ve always wanted to go. Once again, I went back and forth so many times on this category, from book to book and back again. Finally, I decided to settle on I Am The Messenger by Marcus Zusak. The novel is set in an unidentified place in Australia, a country I have always wanted to visit even though there are 9 out of 10 of the world’s deadliest creatures living there.

I can’t tell you how excited I am to start reading this novel. I fell in love with Zusak’s The Book Thief  and am expecting equally great things from this novel. In a way, this novel seems more intimate to Zusak himself. The character of Ed Kennedy perhaps a reflection of the author. From the back cover, I think this book might be a round about mystery. It’s hard to say. Ed starts receiving playing cards in the mail with instructions written on them. He has to become a vigilante Batman type, and who doesn’t love a tragic hero.

Stay tuned for the review of this Book Battle installment. Happy reading!

The Power of Memory

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The Power of Memory

Everything Is Illuminated is a novel about the power of memory and the fine line between fiction and reality. I didn’t really know what to expect when I opened the pages of this novel. I hadn’t really heard all that much about it and know no one who has read it before. All I knew was that it was made into a movie, which I still have yet to see.

The novel unfolds slowly peeling back layers and layers of protection from each character until their ultimate truth can be revealed. The first few chapters had me laughing out loud. Alex plays the lovable, bumbling idiot to perfection. The Ukrainian family is full of delightful quirks, like a grandfather who believes he is blind and must have a seeing eye bitch named Sammy Davis Junior Junior. But it’s not until you delve further into the novel that you realize those quirks are guards each characters puts up to present a chosen image of themselves to the world so that they may remain protected.

The theme that hit me the most throughout the novel was one of fiction vs. reality. You never really know what’s true and what the character has invented based on their facade. Every character is unreliable and creates an illusion of the way they see things or the way they want others to perceive them. Beginning with Brod and continuing on through, each character manufactures and invents a history for themselves to blur the lines between fiction and reality. Brod often confuses the books she reads with her real life events to the point where she doesn’t know what is true and what is make believe. Jonathan creates a whole history for his ancestors that is in part truth and in part added embellishment in the exchange of letters between him and Alex. Even Alex creates a persona for himself that is more fantasy than it is reality. The whole book itself is also a blur of fiction and reality. Upon some research, I found out that the actual author did go to Ukraine in search for family connections, just as in the book, but didn’t find what he was looking for so he decided to invent this alternative history in narrative form.

Everything Is Illuminated is a powerful book about memory and loss and the ways we as humans cope and struggle to make sense of things.

Rating: 4/5

I would definitely recommend this book to anyone interested in reading literary fiction that you have to analyze and read between the lines to figure out. Now I must find the movie so I can watch it! Fingers crossed it’s on Netflix.

Stay tuned for the next book in Book Battle 2015. I’m oscillating between two categories so hopefully I will be able to make up my mine soon. Happy reading!

Everything Is Illuminated

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Everything Is Illuminated

Book Battle 2015 continues with a novel by an author under 30, and that novel is Everything Is Illuminated. I saw the trailer for this novel, well the movie adaptation, years ago and thought that it would be entertaining but for some reason never went out to see it. And in a way I’m glad I didn’t because now I get to read the book first and then watch the movie. As if I needed more impetus to read but then it never hurts.

The author of Everything Is Illuminated, Jonathan Safran Foer, published the book in 2002 when he was 25, pretty impressive. The basic premise is the main character, who has the same name as the author, goes to Ukraine in search of a lady named Augustine that saved his grandfather’s life from the Nazi’s during WWII. Now I’m not sure exactly if this is autobiographical or a literary convention the author is using but I will keep you updated on what I find out. Based solely on the book’s jacket, I think this is going to be one wild ride of a read. I admit the jacket design had me a bit confused, it’s an inversion of itself black and white lettering on one side and white with black lettering on the other. Going from back to front you also have to flip the book upside down to read each flap. Typical for me, I started on the wrong side and when I went to open the book all the text was upside down. Though the design did pique my interest, well played jacket designer.

I’m pretty pumped to begin the next phase of the Book Battle and can’t wait to see what’s in store for me in Everything Is Illuminated. Happy reading fellow Book Battlers!