A Lady of High Regard by Tracie Peterson

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■Synopsis (Excerpt from Goodreads)

Born into affluence, Mia Stanley is a winsome socialite with a knack for matchmaking. She’s also a writer for Godey’s Lady’s Book magazine, much to the disdain of her family and their society friends. A proper young lady of her social standing isn’t meant to labor in such a way, but Mia has always had a way with words…

When her writing draws her into the world of downtrodden seamen’s wives on Philadelphia’s docks, Mia uncovers a scheme that puts her in harm’s way. But her heart ends up on the line as well…. Has her determination to always make a match driven away the one man whose esteem she covets?

 


I haven’t been able to process my feelings toward this book just yet. I don’t particularly adore this book but it’s not like I HATE it, either. I’m kind of being in the middle, if you like.

This is a typical romance story which sets somewhere in the 19th Century. The protagonist, Mia is born to a wealthy family,  she is a ‘Lady of High Regard. She loves acting as a matchmaker and tries to find his best friend, Garrett a suitable wife.

My first impression on this character setting was:
‘Well, that sounds pretty much like Emma by Jane Austen.’ 
I have never read the book. I have only watched the movie adaptation, but I thought Mia’s character setting is quite similar to the one of Emma from the first moment when I found out what kind of woman Mia is.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t relate to Mia as much. I know she is an amiable, compassionate woman yet she also comes across a feisty, headstrong young woman and her naivety and imprudence really put me off.
I do think it’s really nice and commendable of her to try to save seamen’s wives out of their plight despite knowing she is well out of bounds. Nevertheless, I was almost sick of her repeatedly (again, REPEATEDLY) making stupid, reckless, impetuous decisions.
One minute she pledges to her father that she would seek wise counsel and the next minute she acts recklessly in the heat of passion, blindly believing that she can only solve the problem.

As for the story where two old best friends growing up as a brother and a sister finally recognizes their feelings toward each other, I find it interesting yet a bit predictable and old. It was good that it’s got some suspenseful twists to it, but the pacing -as far as the romance goes – was incredibly slow and a bit irritating.
The number of interruptions really threw me off; whenever either of the main two characters tries to confess their love, the interruption comes. I could tolerate it if it were once or twice, but this many???  It does serve to make it more suspenseful and I did want to know how it would play out, but I was a bit frustrated and wanted to cry, “Come on, you two, forget the propriety and blurt it out already!”
On that point, I think it was successful.

Generally the characters didn’t leave much big of an impact on me, neither do the story line.
Oh, but I love Mia’s father a lot. He is an epitome of words of wisdom. I particularly liked the lesson he gives his reckless daughter Mia, such as:

I fear that if you do not learn moderation and learn to temper your responses, however, that you’ll find yourself sorely misused, if not dead.

Meanwhile she’ll stew and fret over what she’s said and done. It will serve her right.

Those remarks made me laugh out loud – what better sermon could there possibly be? He said exactly what I wanted to say to Mia. I love that man.

All in all, I enjoyed reading this. It didn’t grab me as strongly as I had hoped, but I did enjoy reading their slow budding love and I must admit the repetitive misunderstanding between Mia and Garrett hooked me.

As the setting suggest, the writing is rather formal which is reminiscent of Classic literature, but it’s not so arcane, it’s simple enough to get through.
If you are up for light-hearted, classic-ish romance book, you might enjoy this.

I’ll give this book 3 out of 5 stars.

Will You Remember Me? by Amanda Prowse

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Will You Remember Me? (No Greater Love)

 

This book emotionally shattered me; it left me in a complete sobbing mess, I don’t even know how many tears I shed. It’s so sad, poignant, yet amazingly beautiful.

This is a heart-wrenching story of Poppy Day, a wife of Martin and a mother of Peg and Max being diagnosed terminal breast cancer and then trying to live to the fullest, struggling with her sorrow and angst over having to leave the man whom she loves more than anyone else and her kids who she would never trade for the world.

I picked up this book not knowing this is the sixth book in the ‘No Greater Love’ series thus I didn’t get fully invested in the story or the characters until I reached almost halfway through the book.

There were scenes that pulled at my heartstrings here and there in the first half, but the enormity of the grim reality that awaits Poppy didn’t sink in on me as much as I would have liked.

I think I can attributed it to this book being a part of the series; all the characterizations and story-settings must have been done in the previous books, I don’t think there are a lot of explanations on the character dynamics thus it actually took me a while to piece together who and who are connected and their character backgrounds.

Then there came Martin’s outburst; this scene struck me so hard to the core. 

His broke down comes when he finds the thing that’s very important to him taken away from his and Poppy’s special place. He buckles down on his knees and then starts crying… his words, the streak of words that’s coming from his mouth just got me all welled up.

From then, the whole story starts exuding the grim and grave atmosphere as Poppy and Martin try to prepare themselves for the aftermath that will come after Poppy is gone.
At that point, I started to avoid reading this book out in public, which I often do as a bookworm. However, anticipating how sad and heartrending this story was going to be, I just couldn’t. Being a sucker for tear-jerker stories, I didn’t want anyone to see me welling up.

I gobbled down the latter half in two-sittings. It was such a page-turner, I literally couldn’t put it down.
I particularly infuriated and gritted my teeth when I found out there is SOMETHING happening between two characters at Poppy and Martin’s wedding party of all places. I just didn’t see it coming at all thus it hit me like a sledgehammer. I just couldn’t process what I just read.

The ensuing scenes hit me so hard in the feels; it evoked my emotions much more than I thought it would.
I particularly found it really poignant and sad that Poppy has to leave behind their loved ones as young as 32 years old. Her declining health and physical and emotional exhaustion were accurately narrated and it hurt me so bad.

The last several chapters just broke me; the dialogues, the letters, and the obituary.
I just couldn’t hold back my tears, I let it streak down my cheeks. I don’t even remember when was the last time I cried so hard over a book.

I felt this book rather personal from my experience of having lost my father to terminal cancer.
I saw his system shutting down right in front of my eyes; quietly slipping into a coma with his breast rising and falling.
I saw how slow and sluggish his every single movement became as his health deteriorated.
I feel like this book has given me an insight into what his emotional process could have been – having to face death leaving his family and friends behind.

Such emotions that I had from putting myself in Poppy and Martin’s shoes kept washing over me like tidal waves even after I closed the book. If anything, they got stronger now that I saw how it ends.

Personally, I am not 100% happy with the ending. I didn’t like the two (that I mentioned earlier) being together. I guess that’s the only issue that I have about this book.

‘Warning: you will need tissues!’

A warning from the back cover. How well put it is. You’ll definitely need tissues.
A LOT. 

Sarah’s Key by Tatiana de Rosnay

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Sarah’s Key

 

Another 5 out of 5 stars – although it’s the third time I’ve read this book, it never fails to make me cry in the end.

I don’t think I need to tell you what this book is about, given that it was made into a movie, but this is a historical fiction that touches on the Vel’d’ Hiv’ round-up took place in Paris in July, 1942. Early in the morning, the girl, Sarah Starzynski and her family were round-up and penned in a stadium called Vel’d’ Hiv’ where bicycle events used to be held. After spending a few days in an inhuman condition, they were squeezed onto a train and then subsequently sent to the Auschwitz.

Having read this book three times, I felt I noticed a lot of things that I think I missed in my previous reads. Prior to this re-read, I think my attention was only focused on the atrocity that the roundup had brought on Sarah and her family.
This time, however, I found it interesting and really well-done that the author shed some light on the difference in the attitudes and the perspectives towards the past between the American and the French.
While Julia wants to dig deeper into what actually happened during the roundup and how Sarah’s family ended up, her husband’s family members are indignant at Julia bringing back the past unnecessarily. I thought this contrast was very interesting and added a lot of depth to the story, making it much more compelling and engaging.

I sometimes wondered if it was a bit oversimplified display to depict Julia as an epitome of American people, implying they have a tendency of prying into others’ business and trying to find out the truth against all the backlash and protests from the other side.
I personally didn’t feel comfortable in this depiction, but I reckon the author tried to underscore the fact that there so many people, even in France, who don’t know about the Vel’d’ Hiv, who haven’t even heard of the fact that it was actually the French Police not the German Police that enforced the round-up. Through weaving this story, she must have tried to bring this incident to everyone’s knowledge – so as not to repeat the biggest mistake we humankind have ever made.

The ramification and the consequence what Julia’s conduct has brought to the entire family and Sarah’s son, William, are really well-described. The rejection, the initial rejection – oh, it broke my heart. I felt my heart constricted with pain.

The letter to her brother, Michael on which Sarah scribbled down her true emotions couldn’t be read without tears. I didn’t actually cry, but I was pretty close to. The pain and angst Sarah must have felt, Sarah must have bottled up inside her felt as though it were mine.

I love the writing. Although the wording is pretty simple, it is very atmospheric and has got some calm quality to it which I personally think highlights the cruelty and the pain stemming from the round-up.
I also like how the story develops; initially the story is told in two different time frames and perspectives. One with Julia in 2002 and the other with Sarah in 1942. The story goes back and forth for some time, but the two time frames slowly come together and eventually merge into one as the story develops. It was really well-done.

The author also did an excellent job in depicting how the 1942 roundup changes the lives of many people involving Sarah completely, how the past weighs on everyone not only Sarah, but also Julia and even Sarah’s son, William.
While the whole Sarah thing actually brings an unexpected surprise and delight to Julia, it also breaks her emotionally in many ways and she realizes that she cannot go back to her former self. She cannot go on living the way she used to.
I really felt for her. I felt the pains and sorrows are really well-written. Stunning.

The ending never fails to move me and make me cry;
“She was Sarah. My Sarah.”
These are what pull at my heartstrings, getting my waterworks and making me cry.
The ending never fails to stir my emotions and I just adore it.

This is nothing but a testament to being a good book. A good book can move you however many times you reread it.
This book kind of whetted my appetite for Historical Fiction. I’m totally up for reading many more of historical novels this year.
Highly recommended if you haven’t already, pick up this book and see how this book can move you and affect you. You might be surprised.

A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

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A Monster Calls: Inspired by an idea from Siobhan Dowd

 

I gave this book 3 out of 5 stars.
Although I started this book with high expectations after reading so many good reviews and high-ratings, this book didn’t move me as much as I had expected.
In retrospect, I might have expected TOO MUCH, the ducked stars might not have been the book’s fault, the fault may have lain with me after all; I probably should have started this book with a clean slate rather than let the fixed idea cloud my judgment.

The illustrations are amazing and the writing and the story line are generally gripping and relatable, I personally think this is a page-turner. The story moves at a brisk pace.
However, I didn’t get invested in any of the characters except for the Monster; they all felt kind of aloof and it was hard to read their emotions. I think it is too bad that I didn’t get to relate to the main character, Conor, in particular.

I understand that Conor is going through a tough time with his mother being gravely sick, but I couldn’t relate to him for closing himself off and not letting anybody emotionally be close to him. He could confide in his father or his grandmother that how badly he has been tormented by the ‘Truth’ which he keeps to himself. He could lift the load from his shoulders by letting out his feelings, but he kind of refuses to face it. I know the ‘truth’ is awfully hard for a 13 year-old boy to bear, but that’s all the more reason why I wanted him to open up and let the others know his true feelings. I felt rather frustrated with him being so distant, he felt so out of reach.
My frustration disappeared and I even felt some sympathy toward Conor in the end, though.
The irony – the medicine made from yew tree fails to bring the outcome what Conor desperately was hoping for – felt so poignant. That was probably one of the scenes that spoke to me most strongly.

Although I was impressed with what the fourth tale has done to Conor, and I think it is definitely worth a read, personally, I found the message the Monster tries to convey to Conor a bit difficult to grasp. It felt a bit too vague and fuzzy so I almost let it slip.
I still enjoyed reading how the fourth tale helped Conor to be honest with his true feelings though. It is really cathartic and therapeutic.

What I really like about this book is the monster’s voice. He is sage and insightful yet I can also see he has a sense of humor. Some of his remarks made me giggle.
I also enjoyed reading the dialogues between Conor and the monster so much. The monster’s words are all pregnant with meaning, which may be a bit hard for kids to understand, but I think there are a lot that resonate with everyone.

That being said though, I was a bit underwhelmed by the ending; I did want it to grab me, break me, or even shatter me. With regard to the point, this book fell short of measuring up to my ‘probably way too high’ expectations.

I generally enjoyed the book, but it failed to reel me in and make me emotionally attached completely and that’s the only issue that I had toward this book.

This is not a straight 5 stars book for me (I’m so sorry about that), yet I think it’s worth a read and you may find this book really touching and moving.

A World Without You by Beth Revis

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A World Without You

 

I got this book having watched my favorite BookTuber Mollie Reads video in which she literally cried her eyes out holding the book, saying she has no words to describe it.

As some of you probably know, I like books that emotionally destroy me; it may sound weird, but I seemed to have developed a penchant for emotionally disturbing books somehow, I don’t know why, but upon watching the video, I thought this book would definitely be right up my alley.

And it proved me right; an inexplicable feeling washed over me when I closed the book and I got welled up. It was hard to hold in my emotions from gushing out.

I gave this book 4 stars out of 5 stars.

This book opens with a funeral scene of a girl by the name of Sophia who is said to have committed suicide. Her boyfriend and the protagonist of this story, Bo, doesn’t buy what everyone says and tries to save her from the past where she is trapped by using his special powers of maneuvering timestreams.

I went into this book pretty blindly and didn’t know what to expect. I didn’t even know the synopsis much other than this book is about mental illness, so I wasn’t quite sure if I should take what I read at face value or be skeptic. That sense of suspense added a lot to my excitement as I read along.

Just like another book on mental illness, ‘Under Rose-Tainted Skies,’ I felt like I was sneaking inside Bo’s head and seeing what was going on in his mind and how he was processing his emotions. It felt really accurate and realistic, painful at times.

The writing is crisp and straight-forward, it didn’t come across particularly beautiful, but I thought it was quite visceral and emotionally evocative.  I particularly liked how well Beth Revis describes Phoebe’s vacillating emotions and her honest feelings wanting to be as she is without disguising herself.

The diverse cast of characters are all well-fleshed out and felt down-to-earth, not fictional at all. Again, I particularly liked Phoebe for her own imperfections and her self-doubt. Her inner conflicts make this story more gripping and add a lot of depth to it.
The scene where I get to see the snippet of Dad’s true feelings and angst is just heart-wrenching. The whole family, Bo’s family is just going through the motions of being a ‘real family,’ acting as though nothing had happened while bearing loads of baggage inside them, and that scene underlined the charade so perfectly and brilliantly. It felt so poignant.

As the ‘reality’ dawns on, the story get heavier and I found it difficult at times to keep reading. It was getting incredibly gripping but knowing what the ‘reality’ implies, I felt torn between me wanting to keep on and me needing to take a break for a while.
The last 60 pages or so is such a page turner. As the story inches up to ‘the core,’ the harder it gets to put it down.

What made me cry was the epilogue. Until then, I didn’t think I would cry over this book.

That said,

I cried.

When I read the remark Bo makes in the dialogue with Phoebe, it hit me in the feels, thinking,

He says THIS, after what he went through, after the choice he made, he says THIS!

Personally, the epilogue is just amazing and stunning. I am quite happy with that.

As I mentioned, this book is on mental illness, so it is not a fluffy book with a happy vibe.
It is gripping, beautiful, yet serious and heavy.
That being said though, I think it is definitely worth reading it.

I am glad that I did.

Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys

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I gave this book solid 4 stars. It could be 4.5 stars, yet I’ll be honest, and I will say it’s a 4 stars book for me.

I docked a star because it took me a while to get myself on track. For some reason, this book didn’t grab me at my first attempt. The first chapter was brilliant and strong, it actually sucked me in right off the bat, but from then onwards it kind of lost its momentum and I started feeling the words slipping away not fully sinking in on me.
When I was about halfway through the book, I decided that I couldn’t go on like that; I went right back to the beginning to read it again with a clear mindset.
The enormity of the atrocity dawned on me surprisingly well the second time. The book immediately reeled me in and kept me engaged the entire book.

Despite the chilling and upsetting inhumane conducts committed by the Soviet guards, I felt something calm running through the book; Lina’s narration is surprisingly calm and subdued. That said, I must say there were times when I held my breath. The writing is clear-cut and powerful, it adds a lot to the underlying tension and I kept reading with bated breath. It was so much and so hard to take all in; I just can’t imagine what it would have been like to survive with barely any food on their hands in a place like Siberia. It’s beyond my imagination.

The characters are all well-developed; I adore Lina for her feisty yet solid, independent and strong character while Jonas being so pure and adorable. Her mother, Elena is literally an epitome of goodness. She is so compassionate, warm-hearted and strong.

The latter part of the book, particularly close to the end is so poignant and strong; I was pretty close to tears.
However,  I also found it so therapeutic and purgatorial to find goodness even within someone who appears -or we think to be absolutely evil.

I must admit I was completely sold on the epilogue. It was stunning and utterly amazing.
I felt as though the time had stood still with the world around me grinding to a halt. The writing is so beautiful and descriptive; I could clearly visualize the scene. It was beyond reproach.
In addition to that, I was so happy to see the main two characters whose names I wouldn’t divulge here end up being together.

I adore the couple. It is a sole delight in the entire story; I breathed a sigh of delight and relief.
It was definitely worth a read not to mention a good historical lesson. I’m glad I read it.

The Nix by Nathan Hill

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I still don’t know where to start when it comes to talking about this book.
Let me put it this way; there’s an awful lot going on in this book and the writing may come across a bit WORDY, yes, wordy. (I actually stole the word my reading buddy used to describe this book, sorry!)
Getting back to the subject, I gave this book 4 out of 5 stars – I really enjoyed this book, yet this book stopped short of toppling my world and perspective upside down, thus a ducked star; it was pretty close, yet not a straight-up 5 stars book for me.

There is one thing I really need to point out about this book; THE WRITING. The writing is what makes this book so special and unique. As I mentioned earlier, it is wordy at times, yet it is also very descriptive and powerful. I also sensed somewhat like sarcasm and witticism running through the entire book and it made me giggle and laugh out loud at times.

I am pretty sure that many of those who have read this book adore Chapter 4, ‘Argumentum Verbosium’ part. To be perfectly honest, I LOVE the entire chapter, but this particular part, ‘Argumentum Verbosium’ is something you can’t miss. This is the part where the author’s uncanny talent in writing starts to shine – he wondrously and amazingly delineates through his writing how teenage girls would talk – gushing out whatever they have to say and not letting anyone cut in. It was so funny and hilarious.

By the same token, a certain chapter (which comes later in the book) literally blew me away; I have never come across an author who is capable of writing nearly THE WHOLE CHAPTER without stopping – I mean, the second sentence goes on and on and on until the end of the chapter! Trust me, it’ll blow you away when you read it.

The characters are all fleshed out really nicely, they all felt very realistic and grounded. They are a bit dysfunctional and broken in their own way, but surprisingly enough, there are only a few of them who I ended up not liking.

Story-wise, I thought it is very complicated, yet beautifully and intricately crafted.
Right from the beginning, I knew he is a kind of author who spends an enormous amount of pages and time on the character development as well as carefully building up the story. True to form, the end product, the book is quite chunky and voluminous. That being said though, the plot is really gripping and interesting, it kept me turning pages without losing momentum.

I thought it was amazing that the author pulled off putting all the branched out story-lines together beautifully and nicely in the end.
As there are so many things going on in this book with two-main story lines –one with Samuel and the other with Fayne in addition to the timelines going back and forth back and forth between 1968 and 2011, I didn’t actually lose track of the story, but I slowly and gradually began to wonder how the author was going to wrap everything up. Like I said, the story branched out into so many directions which seemed disparate and unrelated, so I was amazed to see (not really ‘see,’ it’s actually ‘read’) how nicely everything is entwined in the end.
However, you’ll need to be patient until you reach that point; it takes time for everything to come together. You will need to trust the author, resist your gut-instinct to drop it and just keep going.

The last part (‘Deleverage’) was such a page-turner; I literally gobbled up the last 100 pages. With the intense, descriptive writing, it was so gripping and engaging, I just couldn’t put it down.

Having said that, I must say that I was a bit caught off guard by how it ends.
With all the underlining sarcasm and witticism plus a wicked sense of humor, I was expecting a bit grimmer and darker ending. I wasn’t expecting the direction this book took as it drew near the end, I was a bit taken aback yet now I think it was a fitting end.

I think this is a grand story of ‘redemption’ and ‘second chance.’
Although all the characters, particularly the main two characters, Samuel and Fayne go through a lot in the story, the place where they have reached and stands is quite satisfactory.

Despite its length, it’s definitely worth a read. There’s no doubt that the author has an excellent flair in writing, I can vouch for that. It was a humorous, funny and exhilarating read. Highly recommend it.