Tag Archives: Polly Stone

Book Review: The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah (4/5)

30 Apr

This may be an unpopular opinion, but I’m a bit ‘done’ with World War II novels. I think they’re overdone in the last few years. That’s not to say they’re not amazing, but I think after Sarah’s Key, Life After Life, All the Light We Cannot See, The Gurnsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, The Book Thief, etc., I could use a break from the setting. Especially those set in Europe. I adored most of these books, don’t get me wrong. I’m just looking for something fresh and new in Historical Fiction. This is why I went into The Nightingale very skeptical. It was going to have to be a stand-out novel to really blow me away. And it was very good. I think if I’d read it before these others, I would have loved it to death. It’s just a timing thing.

Cover image via Goodreads

The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah

Summary from Goodreads:

In the quiet village of Carriveau, Vianne Mauriac says goodbye to her husband, Antoine, as he heads for the Front. She doesn’t believe that the Nazis will invade France…but invade they do, in droves of marching soldiers, in caravans of trucks and tanks, in planes that fill the skies and drop bombs upon the innocent. When France is overrun, Vianne is forced to take an enemy into her house, and suddenly her every move is watched; her life and her child’s life is at constant risk. Without food or money or hope, as danger escalates around her, she must make one terrible choice after another.

Vianne’s sister, Isabelle, is a rebellious eighteen-year-old girl, searching for purpose with all the reckless passion of youth. While thousands of Parisians march into the unknown terrors of war, she meets the compelling and mysterious Gäetan, a partisan who believes the French can fight the Nazis from within France, and she falls in love as only the young can…completely. When he betrays her, Isabelle races headlong into danger and joins the Resistance, never looking back or giving a thought to the real–and deadly–consequences.

I kept waiting for something completely original to come, something that would surprise me and knock me off of my feet. It didn’t happen to me which is why I couldn’t give this book five stars. However, it was very good. I loved the character development, the changing points of view, and the breadth of coverage of historical facts. With the two sisters, we see two very different sides of a war and how someone can survive a war. I loved how much they overlapped and came to be like one another. I thought Hannah set up her plot beautifully and moved it along at a good pace. For such a long book, it never dragged. Like I’ve said, it only suffered to me because it’s one in a long line of WWII novels.

I thought Vianne and Isabelle were great protagonists to show the war unfold. I also liked that their losses were real and painful. Losing a friend, neighbor, colleague, or family member doesn’t happen slowly in war: it happens all at once. Decisions have to be made suddenly even when they’re difficult. I thought these women were strong but realistically so. I loved Isabelle and her determination to help. I loved Vianne and her determination to protect. This book gave two wonderful role models and showed how it felt to be in an occupied country. It was well researched and a joy to read.

I related better to Isabelle than Vianne and I liked her better because of that. I don’t have children, or I may have related to Vianne better. Isabelle was younger than me when the war started and I was able to remember my first love and convictions I felt (and still feel) to do what’s right. She didn’t have anyone holding her back and she came across as brave and strong and I respected her. I would have been terrified to do what she did and I can only hope I’d have the same determination and bravery.

It’s hard to imagine living at a time when so many freedoms were stripped of people. I’ve never felt it to the same extreme as the people of occupied France. Things they would have never considered (murder, rape, human trafficking, giving children to strangers) became necessary. It’s hard to fathom such desperation in modern America.

Kristin Hannah
Image via USA Today

I was intrigued by Isabelle establishing herself in the underground efforts. It was interesting to see her being vetted and only slowly being given responsibilities as they grew to trust her. Being inside her head, we wanted to scream at these people that they could trust Isabelle, but they had no way of knowing that and it’s a credit to Hannah’s writing that the slow process of her coming into the fold was worth the wait.

The scene with the dead airman was my least favorite. I felt it turned the plot in a dark direction when it was already going to end up somewhere terrible. Putting a rift between Vianne and Isabelle didn’t add anything to me. Things would have played out the same way without it in my opinion. I think bringing in von Richter was a good way to move the plot but I think it could have been done without a fight between the sisters.

The audiobook I listened to was narrated by Polly Stone. She did an amazing job. She did French accents and German accents for the characters that weren’t distracting and added to the storytelling. She put great drama into her voice and built up suspenseful moments and languished in happy ones. I listened to her reading of Sarah’s Key as well and I hope she continues to narrate, but possibly something that’s not WWII fiction set in France.

Family creates a bond that’s hard to break. Even though the sisters did not get along growing up and their lives have been lived separately, their bond couldn’t be broken. Even though their father ignored them and pushed them away for years, he was there when they needed him. A family is tested in war but it can be tested in other situations as well. It’s hard to break that bond and I’ve seen times when it has been shattered. I wonder if that would happen if the bond was tested as much as a war can test a family. I bet there would be more reconciliations.

Writer’s Takeaway:  Hannah’s pacing is incredible. With such a long book, I was afraid of downtime and slow parts of the plot. I didn’t get any. There were tense moments peppered throughout that kept the plot moving at a blistering pace for such a long book. Having a setting that lent itself to so much drama and action helped a lot. The conflict inherent in the setting was great and a good pick for any book.

I enjoyed this book and I wish I’d read it before so many of the other WWII titles I’ve read. Four out of Five Stars.

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on GoodreadsFacebookTwitterPinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

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Book Review: Sarah’s Key by Tatiana de Rosnay (4/5)

20 Jun

This is one of those books I feel like every book club read before I joined book clubs. I’d heard good things about it and wanted to read it so when I saw it at a library book sale, I grabbed it. Of course, I never had time to get around to it so I ended up listening to the audiobook. This feels like a common theme lately, huh?

Cover image via Goodreads

Sarah’s Key by Tatiana de Rosnay

Summary from Goodreads:

Paris, July 1942: Sarah, a ten year-old girl, is brutally arrested with her family by the French police in the Vel’ d’Hiv’ roundup, but not before she locks her younger brother in a cupboard in the family’s apartment, thinking that she will be back within a few hours.

Paris, May 2002: On Vel’ d’Hiv’s 60th anniversary, journalist Julia Jarmond is asked to write an article about this black day in France’s past. Through her contemporary investigation, she stumbles onto a trail of long-hidden family secrets that connect her to Sarah. Julia finds herself compelled to retrace the girl’s ordeal, from that terrible term in the Vel d’Hiv’, to the camps, and beyond. As she probes into Sarah’s past, she begins to question her own place in France, and to reevaluate her marriage and her life.

I think I’m a sucker for dual timeline historical fiction books. I really enjoy the format and find it helps make the history seem closer to me. I enjoyed both Sarah and Julia’s timelines though I wish Sarah’s had continued on a bit longer. I think it could have been done to an extent without giving away Sarah’s future too much. Anyway. Julia was a good character, though not very relatable for me. I liked her extended family, too. Sarah’s story was so sad that it was hard to hear at times. She grew up well before she should have due to her losses.

Even though I didn’t relate well to Julia, she was a well-developed character. She never felt like she fit in Paris as hard as she tried. I thought the relationship she had with her daughter Zoë was a little unbelievable for Zoë’s age, but that was minor and didn’t take away from my enjoyment of the book. Julia’s desire to find the truth was a great asset and I liked how she followed things through to the end, even when they were difficult.

Even though I didn’t like him as a person, Bertand was my favorite character. He was very opinionated and strong-willed which was fun to read. Yes, he was a terrible husband, but we knew that from the first scene when he was making fun of Julia for being an American even though it upset her. He doesn’t redeem himself when we find out he’s been unfaithful but gains some sympathy when he points out to Julia she’s been neglectful of him. I thought he was very realistic and I liked his character a lot, even if he was a total jerk.

There weren’t many characters in this book that felt relatable to me. Probably the most relatable thing was Julia’s feeling of not fitting in. It’s not the same, but I lived in Southern Indiana for college and I never felt like I fit in there. It was a small city with a strong farming community, very different from Metro Detroit! Even when I knew my way around and held jobs in town, I wasn’t from there and it seemed it was always obvious to everyone.

Tatiana de Rosnay
Image via the French Embassy in the United States

I liked Sarah’s timeline. Those were my favorite parts because they made me feel like I knew more than Julia and I liked watching her figure out what I already knew. Her story had more pressing dangers to it and I could feel the fast pace and immediacy to her story. Even though it was sad, I liked the pacing.

I disliked the storyline about Julia’s pregnancy only because I thought it was superfluous to the story. She could have had a fight with Bertand without that being the cause and she could have connected with William without it, too. It felt almost like an afterthought and was almost too convenient to push the plot forward.

The audiobook I listened to was narrated by Polly Stone. It must be a challenge to narrate a book with so many foreign words and I thought Stone handled that well. The one thing that bothered me, and I’ve witnessed this before, is that she gave the French characters French accents when they were speaking French. Maybe this is just my brain but the accents gave me a feeling of the characters not having mastery over the language even though they were speaking their native tongue. It’s a small thing, but it got to me. Besides this, Stone did a great job building tension and tackling all the French names and places.

Family was a hard thing for Sarah to deal with. After her loss, she never felt happy with the Defaures. I felt she was always wondering what she’d be doing if her parents and brother were still alive. Julia’s family is breaking up and she seems to be redefining what her family means to her. Can it be a family without Bertand? Can her family include one more? I thought these questions played on one another well. Sarah’s struggle was much more difficult and I’m glad it got so much attention in the later half of the book.

Writer’s Takeaway:  I’m really enjoying the dual timeline in historical fiction! I think it makes the story more relatable for a modern reader and it takes some of the pressures away of researching every small detail so finely. I might have to give this a try myself in my next book.

This was a really enjoyable title with a great history lesson and some really cool twists to it. Four out of Five stars.

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on GoodreadsFacebookTwitterPinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

Related Posts:
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