Review: The Women in the Castle – Jessica Shattuck

Another day, another World War II novel review here on The Paperback Pilgrim.

Now I know what you are thinking, ‘Sara, don’t you ever get tired of reading seemingly the same story ever three or four books?’

The answer.

No.

I don’t know what it is about World War II, but I keep coming back to fiction set during the period.

And yet, up to this point, I haven’t read a World War II novel set in Germany, told by Germans.

Enter The Women in the Castle by Jessica Shattuck.

Set in World War II, and featuring three vastly different women, this book has been on my radar for quite some time.

Did The Women in the Castle live up to my expectations? Keep on reading to find out my thoughts and opinions.

The Book 

Set at the end of World War II, in a crumbling Bavarian castle that once played host to all of German high society, a powerful and propulsive story of three widows whose lives and fates become intertwined—an affecting, shocking, and ultimately redemptive novel from the author of the New York Times Notable Book The Hazards of Good Breeding

Amid the ashes of Nazi Germany’s defeat, Marianne von Lingenfels returns to the once grand castle of her husband’s ancestors, an imposing stone fortress now fallen into ruin following years of war. The widow of a resistor murdered in the failed July, 20, 1944, plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler, Marianne plans to uphold the promise she made to her husband’s brave conspirators: to find and protect their wives, her fellow resistance widows.

As Marianne assembles this makeshift family from the ruins of her husband’s resistance movement, she is certain their shared pain and circumstances will hold them together. But she quickly discovers that the black-and-white, highly principled world of her privileged past has become infinitely more complicated, filled with secrets and dark passions that threaten to tear them apart. Eventually, all three women must come to terms with the choices that have defined their lives before, during, and after the war—each with their own unique share of challenges.

The Review

This book was breathtaking.

If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, thank you, by the way, you know how much I am a sucker for a good World War II novel.

This one, however, differs in the fact that it is set in Germany, before, during and after the war.

It tells the story of the other side, and for that, I am grateful to Shattuck.

Very rarely do you read a World War II novel told in Germany by German characters.

The characters themselves were flawed.

Beautifully flawed.

Marianne, Benita, and Ania did things they couldn’t be proud of.

It wasn’t pretty, but I suppose neither is war.

I don’t want to say much about the women, half of the beauty of the book is learning and feeling for each of them.

They are women, thrust into an impossible situation, and while I disagreed with how some of the decisions were made, I know each of their choices lead them to ‘The End’.

There is a quote, near the end of the book, which captures the essence of each of the women featured in The Women in the Castle, ‘there is nothing you can do about this now. Your actions are your actions. At the end of your life, you have done what you have done. You did what you to do to survive.’

I know this book will stay with me, it is one that teaches you about how easy it is to be complacent, while also showing that having the courage to stand up is far more rewarding.

Overall Rating: 5 out of 5 stars. 

Purchase Links

William Morrow | Amazon | Barnes & NobleIndigo

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Review: Ever the Hunted – Erin Summerill

Evidently, this year is the year for YA fantasy.

Ever the Hunted by Erin Summerill is my fifth YA fantasy novel of the year, and oh man do I have feelings about it.

I picked this book up because the main character, Britta, has her life changed because she hunts on the king’s land.

Now I don’t know if you know this, but I am a major history buff (well actually I have a history minor but you get the gist) and back during the medieval times it was illegal to poach on the king’s land, ergo my immediate interest in this book.

Was it more historical fiction, or did Ever the Hunted live up to its fantasy branding? Keep on reading to find out my thoughts and opinions.

The Book

Seventeen year-old Britta Flannery is at ease only in the woods with her dagger and bow. She spends her days tracking criminals alongside her father, the legendary bounty hunter for the King of Malam—that is, until her father is murdered. Now outcast and alone and having no rights to her father’s land or inheritance, she seeks refuge where she feels most safe: the Ever Woods. When Britta is caught poaching by the royal guard, instead of facing the noose she is offered a deal: her freedom in exchange for her father’s killer.

However, it’s not so simple.

The alleged killer is none other than Cohen McKay, her father’s former apprentice. The only friend she’s ever known. The boy she once loved who broke her heart. She must go on a dangerous quest in a world of warring kingdoms, mad kings, and dark magic to find the real killer. But Britta wields more power than she knows. And soon she will learn what has always made her different will make her a daunting and dangerous force.

The Review

Just to get it out of the way, the aesthetics of this book are gorgeous.

It is definitely one of those books that I look at and almost think of rearranging my bookshelves to have certain books facing forward.

The story was equally as gorgeous.

The magic system was introduced into the plot in a way that it didn’t smack readers in the face.

It also played on the notion of people fearing what they do not understand, with the Kingdom of Malam prosecuting magic, while the Kingdom of Sharedan revels in it.

Speaking of the kingdoms, the use of realism sprinkled within their lore’s both made me connect and be able to visualize them.

The characters in Ever the Hunted were dynamic to read about, and the love aspect didn’t bother me because Britta and Cohen have known each other since they were young, no insta-love here!

Also, I’m saying it here, Leif is an amazing character and he better get more ‘screen time’ in future books, here’s looking at you Summerill.

But that ending though… Blew. Me. Away.

All I can say is I will be eagerly waiting for Ever the Brave to be published later this year.

Overall Rating: 4 out of 5 stars.

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Purchase Links

HMH Books | Amazon | Barnes & NobleIndigo

Review: Redshirts – John Scalzi

*Cue Science Fiction/Double Feature*

I love science fiction, though I love it even more when its short, sweet, and to the point.

Or if it has music because who doesn’t love Rocky Horror.

Redshirts by John Scalzi was recommended to me when I had mentioned I was headed to a Star Trek experience, and it was sold to me when it was described as what happens when the ‘Redshirts’ or extras get wise to the fact that they always end up dead.

Does Redshirts seem like your cup of tea? Keep on reading to find out my thoughts and opinions.

The Book

Ensign Andrew Dahl has just been assigned to the Universal Union Capital Ship Intrepid, flagship of the Universal Union since the year 2456. It’s a prestige posting, and Andrew is thrilled all the more to be assigned to the ship’s Xenobiology laboratory.

Life couldn’t be better…until Andrew begins to pick up on the fact that:
(1) every Away Mission involves some kind of lethal confrontation with alien forces
(2) the ship’s captain, its chief science officer, and the handsome Lieutenant Kerensky always survive these confrontations
(3) at least one low-ranked crew member is, sadly, always killed.

Not surprisingly, a great deal of energy below decks is expended on avoiding, at all costs, being assigned to an Away Mission. Then Andrew stumbles on information that completely transforms his and his colleagues’ understanding of what the starship Intrepid really is…and offers them a crazy, high-risk chance to save their own lives.

The Review

If you are a science fiction fan, than boy oh boy this book is for you.

Besides exploiting one of the more noticeable Star Trek plot holes to make a colourful cast of characters, Scalzi’s Redshirts engages many of science fiction’s quirks to make a hell of a 300 page book.

Jenkins was by far the best character, his witty replies about not being sent the scripts pretty much made me laugh every time.

I don’t want to say too much of this book because reading it not knowing what the plot was going to turn into was half the fun.

My only criticism of this book is the last three chapters.

While it was fun to visit ‘reality’ and see how characters like and Nick, Matt and Samantha were getting on in Scalzi’s version of Los Angeles, I did feel as if it took away from the already brilliant ending of the Redshirts storyline.

Overall Rating: 4 out of 5 stars.

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Purchase Links

Tor Books| Amazon | Barnes & NobleIndigo

Review: The Mermaid’s Daughter – Ann Claycomb

Life is the bubbles under the sea!

Today’s review is on Ann Claycomb’s novel The Mermaid’s Daughter, targeted as a modern day retelling of The Little Mermaid.

While some aspects of the Disney classic can be seen, this retelling is more for those morbid readers who have read the Hans Christian tale of the same name.

If you’re unfamiliar with Anderson’s story of The Little Mermaid, basically the sea witch gives the mermaid legs, which are painful to walk on, the prince is a dink who rejects her, the sea witch makes a pact with the mermaids sisters and the mermaid is tasked with killing the prince.

Wowza.

Was The Mermaid’s Daughter as dark as its source material? Keep on reading to find out my thoughts and opinions.

The Book

A modern-day expansion of Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid, this unforgettable debut novel weaves a spellbinding tale of magic and the power of love as a descendent of the original mermaid fights the terrible price of saving herself from a curse that has affected generations of women in her family.

Kathleen has always been dramatic. She suffers from the bizarre malady of experiencing stabbing pain in her feet. On her sixteenth birthday, she woke screaming from the sensation that her tongue had been cut out. No doctor can find a medical explanation for her pain, and even the most powerful drugs have proven useless. Only the touch of seawater can ease her pain, and just temporarily at that.

Now Kathleen is a twenty-five-year-old opera student in Boston and shows immense promise as a soprano. Her girlfriend Harry, a mezzo in the same program, worries endlessly about Kathleen’s phantom pain and obsession with the sea. Kathleen’s mother and grandmother both committed suicide as young women, and Harry worries they suffered from the same symptoms. When Kathleen suffers yet another dangerous breakdown, Harry convinces Kathleen to visit her hometown in Ireland to learn more about her family history.

In Ireland, they discover that the mystery—and the tragedy—of Kathleen’s family history is far older and stranger than they could have imagined.  Kathleen’s fate seems sealed, and the only way out is a terrible choice between a mermaid’s two sirens—the sea, and her lover. But both choices mean death…

Haunting and lyrical, The Mermaid’s Daughter asks—how far we will go for those we love? And can the transformative power of music overcome a magic that has prevailed for generations?

The Review

This book is a retelling for the modern age.

Gone are the days of princes, long live princesses.

Katherine and Harry’s relationship was beautiful to read about, and while they were representative of the L in LGBTQ+, it was in by no means done in poor taste.

Harry loved Kathleen just as much as if the love interest was a man, to be honest maybe even more so, and I could honestly read another book if it had either of them in it.

The theme of music is interwoven into the plot, I mean the chapters tend to have ‘aria’ or ‘composer’ written in them, so I knew music was going to be pivotal.

I think it was adorable that even though he didn’t know what was going on with his daughter, Robin still loved Kathleen.

And it showed, given that he was stuck in how to write The Scarlet Letter opera but had no problem writing music for his daughter.

I think the other character I enjoyed was that of the sea.

It was ever changing, depending upon where the characters were, and we felt through Kathleen how the sea differed from Boston to Florida, to Ireland.

I would have enjoyed the Hans Christen Anderson short story woven into the later part of the book, where the sea witches voice was lacking, but even having it at all was a nice touch by Claycomb.

Overall Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars.

Purchase Links

Harper Collins | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Indigo

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Review: Born Speaking Lies – Rob Leniham

Well, I think this is a new genre of book for The Paperback Pilgrim, crime fiction.

To be honest, I really don’t find myself reaching for crime fiction too often, mostly because when I go for a book I tend to gravitate towards the type of stories that couldn’t happen in real life.

I received Born Speaking Lies by Rob Lenihan for an honest review, and immediately I knew it was different.

I say that because while it could have happened in real life, there was soo much drama that I could really disassociate myself with Lenihan’s fictional world and my own semi-reality.

What did I think of Born Speaking Lies? Keep on reading to find out my thoughts and opinions.

The Book 

In Born Speaking Lies, New York mobster Billy the Kid gets a chance to escape the violent world of 1990s Brooklyn after being shot and left for dead in a Pennsylvania forest by members of his own crew. Billy tries to disappear into small town life with Lora, a local woman who finds him bleeding by the side of the road, but his desire for revenge and his rapidly deteriorating health drives him toward a bloody confrontation with his former friends.

The Review

While I’m not usually the person who likes a book where pretty much the entire cast of characters are insufferable, the characters in Born Speaking Lies were mobsters, so didn’t find myself not enjoying it for that reason.

Both Billy and Sal were dark humoured and I loved it.

I was constantly finding myself flipping ahead to see what quick whip they were going to crack, or what crazy adventure they were going to find themselves in.

Also, I did find that Lenihan tried to veer away from the typically mobster stereotypes, so that was quite the surprise for me.

Of the issues I had with this book, the biggest one was its length.

While the writing was very atmospheric, I felt because it was close to 500 pages I did find myself falling in and out of the pages a bit.

I think the book might have received a higher rating from me if it was either cut in half or was a two books, but for those who have no issue with length this book is definitely for you.

Overall Rating: 3 out of 5 stars. 

Purchase Links

Fomite PressAmazon | Barnes & NobleIndigo

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Review: Atonement – Ian McEwan

I have always been a firm believer in the principle of reading the book before seeing the movie.

A film that has been on my radar as of late is the World War I period piece Atonement, starring Kiera Knightley and James McAvoy.

Due to it being a book to movie adaptation, and given my rule, I knew in order to watch it I would first have to pick up Ian McEwan’s novel first.

Did my book to movie adaptation rule work in favour for Atonement? Keep on reading to find out my thoughts and opinions.

The Book

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On a hot summer day in 1934, thirteen-year-old Briony Tallis witnesses a moment’s flirtation between her older sister, Cecilia, and Robbie Turner, the son of a servant and Cecilia’s childhood friend. But Briony’s incomplete grasp of adult motives—together with her precocious literary gifts—brings about a crime that will change all their lives. As it follows that crime’s repercussions through the chaos and carnage of World War II and into the close of the twentieth century, Atonement engages the reader on every conceivable level, with an ease and authority that mark it as a genuine masterpiece.

The Review

McEwan has a way with words, I’ll give him that.

The way he’s able to construct a sentence is a gift, one that I felt was otherwise wasted on this book.

The character of Briony was an insufferable viewpoint to read from.

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I understand that she was young and was only doing what she thought was ‘right,’ but she then shouldn’t have been so confused as to why the other characters around her acted the way they did.

Also, she didn’t atone for anything, he apology was weak and the way she ‘ends’ her book is even worse.

Other notable drags character wise included big fat lying Lola, Paul Marshall, and have I already mentioned Briony?

The only saving grace was Cecilia, who despite everything chose to believe in Robbie rather than cast him out because a little girl told her so.

While a book doesn’t necessarily have to have a happy ending to be good, the entire premise of this book focused on the love between Cecilia and Robbie, and the way McEwan chose to end it felt like a cop out.

After reading, I’m just not sure whether I’ll be able to watch the movie.

Overall Rating: 3 out of 5 stars. 

Purchase Links

Vintage CanadaAmazon | Barnes & NobleIndigo

Review: Wait for Me – Caroline Leech

Well, I just realized that the next few reviews all have war time settings, my bad guys!

If it makes you feel any better, after my next review it will be pretty fantasy/sci-fi heavy, so if you’re more into those genre’s never fear!

Anyways, today’s review is on the WWII set Wait for Me by Caroline Leech.

Easily one of my most anticipated books of the year, Wait for Me is one of the only war novels I’ve read that is intended for a young adult audience.

Did Leech’s debut novel live up to my expectations? Keep on reading to find out my thoughts and opinions.

The Book

The perfect blend of sweet romance and historical flavor, Wait for Me, from debut author Caroline Leech, brings a fresh new voice to a much-loved genre.

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It’s 1945, and Lorna Anderson’s life on her father’s farm in Scotland consists of endless chores and rationing, knitting Red Cross scarves, and praying for an Allied victory. So when Paul Vogel, a German prisoner of war, is assigned as the new farmhand, Lorna is appalled. How can she possibly work alongside the enemy when her own brothers are risking their lives for their country?

But as Lorna reluctantly spends time with Paul, she feels herself changing. The more she learns about him—from his time in the war to his life back home in Germany—the more she sees the boy behind the soldier. Soon Lorna is battling her own warring heart. Loving Paul could mean losing her family and the life she’s always known. With tensions rising all around them, Lorna must decide how much she’s willing to sacrifice before the end of the war determines their fate.

The Review

This book blew me away.

First and foremost you cannot tell just by reading this book that Leech is a debut author.

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This book read like it was written by an author with years of experience both in the historical and young adult fiction worlds.

Another aspect of the novel that sparked an interest in me as a reader was its setting.

Wait for Me takes place on a farm in Scotland, and up until reading this book I had no idea that the Scots took prisoners of war and make them farmhands.

It was a piece of history that I’ve never read about before, which made it stand out in my mind.

The characters also had qualities that made them shine, both individually and as an ensemble.

Lorna knew what she wanted but was apprehensive about taking it.

Paul was independent but knew he needed someone to get him through.

Iris knew the boy she loved wasn’t good for her but couldn’t stand up for herself.

All of the characters were flawed and felt so real, and because of that, it added so much to the reading experience.

I also really enjoyed Mr. Anderson and Mrs. Mack, because while they were the ‘adults’ of the ensemble, they never portrayed as all-wise or all-knowing.
One thing I don’t think I’ve spoken about on this blog is my disdain for the ‘instant love’ trope in YA fiction.

While Leech’s characters do end up falling in love, whether it be in a platonic or romantic way, it is by no means ‘instant.’

She explores time and friendship first, and by the end of the novel, I knew that the characters that ended up together found themselves in that situation because they understood the other person.

Overall Rating: 5 out of 5 stars.

Purchase Links

Harper TeenAmazon | Barnes & NobleIndigo