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The Light We Lost by Jill Santopolo

"There’s something about death that makes people want to live. We wanted to live that day, and I don’t blame us for it. Not anymore."
The Light We Lost by Jill Santopolo 

You guys - unpopular opinion time.

I have been known to cry over books. Books with sad endings, books with infuriating endings, books with very happy endings. I get emotional. It's weird, I know. So I thoroughly expected to be wrecked by this book - all of the reviews said so, even Reese Witherspoon said so! 

Here's the thing about this book - I think if I had gone into it with different expectations maybe I would have different thoughts on it. Jill Santopolo sets out to write an epic love story about a first love that spans over a decade. And at times she does an outstanding job, but ultimately I found this novel to be predictable, trite and at times clichéd. I expected to have my heart ripped out - this story could after all - only end one way. But what I didn't expect was to feel so underwhelmed by the narrative and ending of this book.

The concept of this book is nothing new - a look into the past, wondering what could have been if timing had been different. What if the decisions that had been made had lead down different paths? It's a familiar concept that people like - I personally, don't mind ill fated romances as long as the story has the right sort of emotional quality. I just feel that there are other books that have done it better.

The writing isn't bad, it's fine, but I think that this novel would have been more effective if it had been narrated a little differently. The book is narrated entirely by Lucy in past tense. She's recalling memories, as if she's telling a story to someone. Unfortunately this mechanism is a dead give away to any adept reader about the condition of the person she's narrating to which made this very predictable. I know of other stories that are like this, Nicholas Sparks' The Choice or even The Best of Me. There were times I even thought of Audrey Niffenegger's The Time Traveler's Wife, which I know is entirely different, but has similar themes of waiting on someone who isn't there. The difference between this novel and those being that the latter packed an emotional punch (as Sparks is apt to do) that this novel was missing. I believe that's mostly due to lack of shock factor and had the author taken a different stylistic approach the outcome may have been different. Overall the end of this novel left me feeling - meh.

I really wanted to like this more, but I believe that this novel was over-hyped and for readers who enjoy this type of book - there are other stories out there more worth the time.

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New Release Tuesday: Love and Ruin by Paula McLain

I didn't want to cause trouble; I only knew what I knew. That Ernest could eclipse me, as large as any sun without even trying. 

Paula McLain's latest biological fiction novel returns to a familiar subject for the author, Ernest Hemingway - or more accurately one of his wives. And while the novel is a lush and evocative retelling of Martha Gellhorn and Ernest Hemingway's love affair - the best word I can think of to describe it is languid.

At the beginning of the novel we're introduced to Martha Gellhorn, a spirited young woman with aspirations to be a writer. She's spent some time jaunting around Europe, has written a failed book and is now working on another. Marty is an interesting enough character on her own, but her story wouldn't be complete without Hemingway's larger than life persona - their affair, marriage and artistic competitiveness, the last of which ultimately lead to the demise of their relationship.

This book is beautifully written, the descriptions of Spain and especially Cuba are vivid to the point of verging on atmospheric. McLain does an absolutely spellbinding job of creating a real sense of place and time in her work. It's a truly engrossing novel that swept me away with Ernest and Marty. That said, this book is a languorous retelling of Gellhorn and Hemingway's lives together that seems to linger just a little bit more than it should at points.

Fans of McLain's earlier work should enjoy this story, told from the perspective of Hemingway's third wife - one who was not content to simply be a domestic accessory and instead demanded to stand on her own as a person and a writer. She's an admirable subject, and I felt in many ways the woman in whom Hemingway met his match. Hemingway was said to be a charismatic man - who was not known to be kind to women. He was a serial cheater who happened to be a brilliant writer. For someone like Martha Gellhorn, a young aspiring writer with her sights set on a successful career of her own, it's easy to see how she fell in love with Hemingway. It's just as easy, though, to see how she found herself in his shadow - eclipsed by his work. McLain does such an extraordinary job of allowing us inside Martha's head - sharing her insecurities, her triumphs and sadness with such ease. I thoroughly enjoyed seeing the world through her lens.

I would recommend this to fans of historical fiction who enjoy character driven novels that read like a letter from a friend. I'm excited to see what Paula McLain does next.

Thank you to Random House and Netgalley for providing a free advanced egalley for me to review. 
All thoughts are my own. 

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Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie

“Grief was what you owed the dead for the necessary crime of living on without them.”

Kamila Shamsie's Home Fire is a slow building masterpiece that explores sibling love and sacrifice.
I loved everything about this book, the more I process it - the more I love it. It's beautifully written, evocative and painful. This type of novel takes a special talent - the craft alone here is meticulous. 

The story centers around three siblings - Isma is the oldest, who has spent the majority of her teenage years looking after her twin siblings, Aneeka and Parvaiz. The twins have reached the age of 18 and Isma now has the ability to move forward with her life - beginning with an opportunity to travel to America to further her education. Her story opens the novel, a chapter in which she's stopped by airport security and interrogated about her clothing, her life, and basically her motive for leaving England. 

You see, her father was a famous Jihadist. 

Aneeka and Parvaiz remain in London, each doing their own thing but remaining firmly intertwined in each other's lives. But then Isma and Aneeka find their world ripped out from beneath them when their brother disappears to follow in his father's footsteps and joins ISIS. 
This novel is political, that goes without saying. But examines humanity, social class, moral values, and familial ties. It's searing. 

I loved this though, if you're the type of reader that needs a hook right off the bat or quickly loses interest - this probably isn't for you. But if you're the kind of reader who appreciates a novel written with a quiet precision that builds to an outstanding ending - you will probably enjoy this novel like I did.

Long-listed for the Man Booker, Home Fire offers a modern spin on the Sophocles tragedy, Antigone. The parallels are easy to spot if you're familiar with the source material and if you aren't, I would check that out before picking this up to appreciate the full extent of Shamsie's work here.

Overall very well done and very thought provoking - though I wouldn't recommend to the casual reader, and reserve this for readers who enjoy work by authors who I feel have a similar quiet literary prowess and slow build in their work ie: Lauren Groff ( Fates & Furies ) or Mohsin Hamid's Exit West .

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The Fire by Night by Teresa Messineo

"Maybe God was in the emptiness, in the cold and pain and despair. Maybe finding Him there would be faith. Maybe even imagining He could be there was hope."
- The Fire by Night by Teresa Messineo

3.5-4 stars for Teresa Messineo's debut novel. I really enjoyed this book - it was well written, emotionally engrossing and an incredible tribute to the women who served their country on the front lines during WWII.

I feel like I've read a lot of WWII historical fiction - it's one of my favorite time periods in my favorite genre, so I think I have a fairly good grasp on the books that are out there and I haven't read anything like this before. If I had to give a comparison - there are a lot of parts that reminded me of Laura Hillenbrand's Unbroken and the movie Pearl Harbor. I would like to say that the synopsis references The Nightingale and I would steer readers away from the comparison because the only piece that felt similar was the use of the dual narrative.

The story follows two women who become best friends during their training as nurses. When they are deployed, Kay finds herself in the tropical paradise of the South Pacific, while Jo travels to North Africa and Europe. As the novel goes on Kay narrates from Santo Tomas Internment Camp in the Phillipines - describing the horrors of Japanese internment in the South Pacific and the astronomical loss of human life to disease and starvation.

Jo, after traveling through Europe and Africa, is stranded in a field tent somewhere in occupied France. She's the last of the medical staff and with six injured men on her hands she's fatigued mentally and physically.

Of the two, I was more interested in Jo's story it seemed to move a little quicker than Kay's and I was more drawn into her role in taking care of her charges.

This novel really explores the physical and mental trauma of war, the sacrifice and bravery of all who were part of it - but does an wonderful job of bringing to light the terrible sacrifice of the women nurses who usually seem to be a side story in books about this topic. It gave me a whole new appreciation for combat nurses.

The only reason this wasn't a solid four/five star read for me was that there were disjointed parts of the narrative (I understand why the author did this, but it detracted from my reading experience) and the pacing felt stalled at times. Otherwise, it was very well done.

TW: Rape, graphic violence

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