Review of The Underground Railroad by Colton Whitehead

After Goodreads declared The Underground Railroad by Colton Whitehead the Best Book of 2016, I quickly rushed out to purchase it and bumped it up to the top of my ever-growing fall reading list. This novel is about Cora, a slave on a deep southern plantation who is a bit of an outsider since her mother Mabel’s infamous escape. Her and Cesar, a newer slave on the plantation, decide to escape their own personal hells and take the Underground Railroad to freedom. However, within this novel the Underground Railroad is not the network of brave individuals who housed and moved slaves to freedom that we are accustomed to, but rather it is an actual underground network of railways that was supposedly built by freed slaves and other abolitionists.

Despite my excitement about reading this book, I honestly couldn’t get past the first hundred pages. While I appreciated the realistic way in which Whitehead depicted the atrocities of slavery, his overall writing style failed to captivate me. I found the structure to be quite disjointed and difficult to follow. It seemed as though right when the action started, Whitehead would cut to a flashback or begin telling a portion of the story from a completely new perspective. The lacking character development not only made these transitions in perspective more challenging to follow but also made it difficult for me to empathize with them, despite the tremendous hardships Cora, Cesar, and the rest of the slaves on the Randall plantation were experiencing.

To be quite honest, I was very disappointed in myself for not being able to enjoy this novel. As someone who loves historical fiction, especially about this particular era in our history, I was truly devastated that I was unmoved by this novel. I am very curious to see how you guys felt about this novel so let me know your thoughts in the comments below!

2 out of 5 stars 

30555488.jpg

Advertisements

Review of The Mothers by Brit Bennett

The Mothers by Brit Bennett follows the story of seventeen year old Nadia Turner who, after losing her mother to suicide, finds herself pregnant with the local pastor’s son’s baby. It is this pregnancy, and the cover up that followed, that greatly impacts the life of Nadia, her best friend Aubrey, and Luke well into their adult lives. Told through the perspective of Nadia and “the mothers” of the local church, Bennett beautifully captures the modern black experience and the complexity of our relationships, especially within a rather insular community.

To put it simply, this book is a work of art. Bennett’s imagery and prose is like nothing I have ever experienced before. She somehow captures exactly what the reader is thinking as she exposes us to the different hardships that Nadia faces, making her experiences even more relatable. Furthermore, she beautifully and expertly shows the reader the hearts and minds of the three dimensional characters that she created in a way that transforms them into old friends that leap off the page. Moreover, her comments on the modern black experience ground Bennett’s whimsical writing style in a reality we all recognize to be true.

My only complaint about this novel is that the ending of the novel was a bit long winded. After the last, and most damning, of the many plot twists occurred, I found myself getting a bit antsy for it to resolve itself. While I still found the overall progression of the novel to be masterful and moving, there were some moments especially in Nadia, Luke, and Aubrey’s adult years during which I felt a bit stuck in a rut as a reader.

The Mothers by Brit Bennett was a pleasant surprise in my fall reading list. I honestly had no idea what to expect from this novel and her story took me to a corner of the literary world that I had never been before, and am longing to return to. I cannot wait to see what other masterpieces Ms. Bennett puts out in the future and I strongly encourage everyone to bump The Mothers to the top of your reading list.

4 out of 5 stars

28815371.jpg

Review of Chronicle of a Last Summer: A Novel of Egypt by Yasmine El Rashidi

When I first received this book from the Blogging for Books program earlier this summer, I was so ready to immerse myself in the history of a country I know very little about. I had high hopes of forming a greater understanding of the current conflicts in Egypt, told through a fictional lens. However, despite numerous attempts to finish this book, I honestly couldn’t get past the 60 page mark. Below is a portion of the Goodreads synopsis followed by my review:

Goodreads Summary:

Cairo, 1984. A blisteringly hot summer. A young girl in a sprawling family house. Her days pass quietly: listening to a mother’s phone conversations, looking at the Nile from a bedroom window, watching the three state-sanctioned TV stations with the volume off, daydreaming about other lives. Underlying this claustrophobic routine is mystery and loss. Relatives mutter darkly about the newly-appointed President Mubarak. Everyone talks with melancholy about the past. People disappear overnight. Her own father has left, too—why, or to where, no one will say.

Review:

Part of what drew me to this novel, initially, was the idea of following the main character across three decades. However, I quickly became quite frustrated with this structure because I found it particularly challenging to get a sense of an unfamiliar country in an era that was before my time when it was being told to me from the perspective of a six year old. Furthermore, the protagonist’s parents worked very hard to shield her from the hardships their family was experiencing so I felt as though I, too, was being shielded from pertinent information necessary to understanding the state of Egypt during this time. This ultimately prevented me from empathizing with what the protagonist was experiencing and thus made it impossible for me to get through this entire novel.

I think what would have made this a stronger novel would be starting the novel in a time when then protagonist was older and then flashing back to her six year old self. This would have allowed the reader to have some concept of the state of Egypt and who the main character is prior to diving in to all that she’s been through. I apologize for the brevity of this review, however I felt it was important to share my thoughts on novels that I really struggled to get through to balance out my reviews of books that I absolutely fell in love with. Let me know in the comments below your thoughts on Chronicle of a Last Summer if you’ve had a chance to read it!

1 out of 5 stars 

27162989.jpg

**I received this book for free from the Blogging For Books Program in exchange for an honest review**

Review of The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah

It seems only fitting to review Kristin Hannah’s The Nightingale on the 78th anniversary of Kristallnacht. Set in occupied France during World War II, this novel follows two sisters, Isabelle and Vianne, who each contribute to fighting the Nazis in their own incredible ways. As the war progresses, they are faced with unimaginable challenges and react to them in ways that they each never thought they were capable of.

The Nightingale brilliantly captures the role women played during World War II and the blurred lines between good and evil and right and wrong. I am absolutely amazed by Hannah’s ability to create such a long, detailed, and complex novel that does not feel long-winded or unbearably dense. Furthermore, she does an exquisite job of setting the scene at each stage of the novel so the reader is completely transported to the realities of war torn France in the 1940’s.

The dynamic relationships that Hannah created between each of the characters is astounding and truly at the core of what made this novel so gripping. The mixture of love, frustration, and undying desire to protect each other that characterizes the the relationship between Isabelle and Vianne is perfectly sisterly. Moreover, the humanizing relationship that Vianne forms with Captain Beck demonstrates that we are all capable of compassion, which is an important lesson that transcends the confines of this story.

Ultimately, I was absolutely captivated by Hannah’s The Nightingale. While most stories set during World War II focus on the atrocities that took place at Auschwitz, Hannah reminds us just how many people were impacted by this horrible war and how incredibly strong women and children had to be. On a more personal note, this book couldn’t have come into my life at a more perfect time. At a time when my own country is going through a rather horrifying time, this story of survival, love, and compassion gave me hope.

5 out of 5 stars 

21853621.jpg

Review of And Every Morning the Way Home Gets Longer and Longer by Frederik Backman

After hitting a bit of a reading slump, Frederik Backman’s And Every Morning the Way Home Gets Longer and Longer was everything I needed and more. This novella features Grandpa and Noah sitting on a bench in a space filled with pieces of their lives that keeps getting smaller and smaller, as Grandpa struggles to remember life’s little details. It is in this space that Grandpa and Noah not only share their passion for mathematics but also practice saying goodbye so when the time comes and Grandpa no longer remembers Noah, he will know just how to say it.

I honestly cannot say enough good things about this book. As someone who lost a grandparent to dementia, this book resonated with me on such a deep level. Backman perfectly portrays the role reversal that occurs between parents and children as the ones who once took care of us become the ones that need to be taken care of. Furthermore, the poignant message of practicing how to say goodbye because there may come a time where our loved ones’ minds have failed them is so incredibly important and moving. I particularly loved the space that Backman created nestled between reality and the mind of Grandpa. The way that he effortlessly allowed the park to transform from something superficial to a representation of all the thoughts and experiences that Grandpa was going to forget was beautiful and gave me a deeper understanding of what my own grandma experienced.

Ultimately, And Every Morning the Way Home Gets Longer and Longer is a must-read for everyone. It reminds us to hold our loved ones even closer and cherish life’s little moments because at the end of they day, that’s all that matters. We all must make the most of the borrowed time that we have in this world and that is exactly what this novella demonstrates.

5 out of 5 stars 

**A special thank you to NetGalley and Simon and Schuster for granting me a advance review copy in return for an honest review**

31140489