ARC REVIEW: The Gypsy Moth Summer – by Julia Fierro

Title: The Gypsy Moth Summer
Author: Julia Fierro

Genre: Fiction, Contemporary
First published: June 6th 2017
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Finished reading: June 2nd 2017
Pages: 400

“What good are the rules,” Jules asked, “the laws, moral this and that, when you can’t follow them and protect your family at the same time?”

*** A copy of this book was kindly provided to me by Netgalley and St. Martin’s Press in exchange for an honest review. Thank you! ***

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Ever since I first heard about The Gypsy Moth Summer I’ve been intrigued by this story. I’ve heard lots of interesting things about it since I first added it to my list, but somehow it has taken me months to actually pick it up. One of the reasons is probably that I tend to have mixed reactions when it comes to literary fiction… And unfortunately The Gypsy Moth Summer ended up being one of those books where the genre just didn’t work for me. I really wanted to like this story and the plot is without doubt both intriguing and well developed. I liked the idea behind the island of Avalon, its history and all events leading up to its ‘climax’ during the summer of 1992. Why wasn’t my reading experience better then, would you wonder? First of all, during the whole length of this story I found myself unable to connect to the characters OR get used to the writing style, which put a mayor damper on things. I’m not saying this story isn’t well written, but it’s what you call an acquired taste or at least doesn’t appeal to everyone. It just all felt a bit too chaotic to my taste and I personally struggled with this story. I understand the gypsy moth information bits are used to bind the plot together and these insects play a both a literal and symbolic role in the story, but unfortunately they mostly ended up distracting from the plot. And as for the characters: like I said before I found it impossible to warm up to them and I couldn’t really appreciate the liberal use of sex, drugs and alcohol in the story without consequences either. It might be that those elements are used to symbolize the chaos unfolding on the island, but it mostly made me dislike the characters even more. All in all The Gypsy Moth Summer definitely wasn’t for me… But if you enjoy reading literally fiction and like the sound of this story, don’t let my review discourage you.

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It’s the summer of 1992 on Avalon, a small islett off the coast of Long Island. The normally quiet island is being invaded by gypsy moths, the caterpillars eating everything that they can find and becoming a true plague. The insects are becoming one of the main topics of conversation on the island, but that is not the only thing the islanders talk about. Leslie Day Marshall, the daughter of Avalon’s most prominent family, returns to the island with her husband and children. Nothing special would you say, but the fact is that Leslie’s husband Jules is African-American and the island is packed with predominantly white conservatives quick to form their opinions about the family… And than there is the topic of the factory and the graffiti.

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I really wanted to enjoy this story and I still think the plot itself is both rich, provoking and fascinating, but unfortunately The Gypsy Moth Summer ended up being one of those titles that just isn’t for me. Literary fiction can go either way with me in general, so that might just have been the problem here; if you enjoy the genre I would suggest still giving this story a go. That said, I couldn’t ignore the chaotic feel of the storytelling, my lack of connection to the characters, certain elements that bothered me or the fact I couldn’t warm up to the writing style.


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ARC REVIEW: Castle Of Water – by Dane Huckelbridge

Title: Castle Of Water
Author: Dane Huckelbridge

Genre: Fiction, Contemporary
First published: April 4th 2017
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press 
Finished reading: April 16th 2017
Pages: 288

“With his box-cutter knife in one hand and waterproof flashlight in the other, Barry felt, for the first time in his life, like a man. A terrified man on the verge of  wetting his loincloth, but a man nevertheless.”

*** A copy of this book was kindly provided to me by Netgalley and St. Martin’s Press in exchange for an honest review. Thank you! ***

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Sometimes (cover)love at first sight can lead to something extraordinary. When I first saw Dane Huckelbridge‘s debut novel Castle Of Water mentioned, I couldn’t stop staring at the cover. The color combination, the abstract sunset over the sea… Just gorgeous. Of course I had no other choice but to request a copy, especially since the story itself sounded really intriguing as well. And Castle Of Water is without doubt a little masterpiece. It’s a story about how two unlikely characters end up as castaways on a deserted island together and how they manage to survive… A modern ‘Robinson Crusoe‘ twist that captured my attention from the very first page. The characters are spot on and their development is brilliantly done. It’s really interesting to see how both Barry and Sophie react to the things that happen to them on the island and I love LOVE their bantering! I like that they represent different nationalities as well as personalities and it without doubt adds an original touch to an already excellent story and plot. The writing style really stands out as well; well written, enjoyable to read and even funny at points. I also loved the incorporation of many French elements/words, which were easy to understand and didn’t slow down the pace even though my French is pretty basic. I honestly couldn’t find something I didn’t like about this novel… So as you might have already guessed, I can more than recommend Castle Of Water if you enjoy the genre. You won’t be disappointed!

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Sophie Ducel and Barry Bleecker decided to travel to French Polynesia for very different reasons… Sophie wanted to visit the island home of her favorite singer, Jacques Brel, during her honeymoon with her new husband. Barry Bleecker decided to give up his job in Manhattan finance and chase his painting dreams instead; seeking creative inspiration in the place where his idol, Paul Gauguin, found it as well. The two didn’t know each other until they bordered the small plane sharing the same destination. And then their plane is downed in the middle of the Sout Pacific, and Sophie and Barry are the sole survivors. They find themselves stranded on a tiny island hundreds of miles from civilization… And they will have to learn to work together if they want to have any chance of survival and ever finding a way back home. Which might be more difficult than it sounds, because the two strangers couldn’t have been more different.

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While it was the beautiful cover that made me first want to pick up this novel, it was the story and writing style itself that managed to blow me away in the end. Castle Of Water is basically a modern castaway story with a twist, and I loved every single moment of it. The prose is just wonderful and combined with the well developed and loveable characters you are definitely in for a treat. An emotional rollercoaster, in the best possible way!


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BOOK REVIEW: Homegoing – by Yaa Gyasi

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Title: Homegoing
Author: Yaa Gyasi

Genre: Historical Fiction, Literary Fiction
First published: June 7th 2016
Publisher: Knopf
Finished reading: November 21st 2016 
Pages: 305
Rating 4qqq

“You want to know what weakness is? Weakness is treating someone as though they belong to you. Strength is knowing that everyone belongs to themselves.”

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As soon as I came across this story a few months ago, I just knew I had to read it at some point. I always have a weak spot for a solid historical fiction novel, and Homegoing had all the signs it was going to be just that. I somehow ended up posponing this read longer than I had initially planned, but the Goodreads Choice Awards were the perfect excuse to finally pick up this novel by Yaa Gyasi. And there is no doubt that Homegoing deserves its nomination. It’s a truly interesting historical fiction novel set in both Africa and the US, starting in the 18th century with two characters and following their future generations during centuries. I actually kind of had One Hundred Years Of Solitude flashbacks every time I considered this aspect of Homegoing, and that is definitely a compliment. Sure, the story is a bit confusing in the beginning, mostly due to the sheer amount of characters that are introduced over time. The pace was also a tad slow at times, but that is all forgotten if you look at just how brilliantly written this story actually is. The author is able to include so many important moments in the history of both slavery and race problematics in general, and manages to do so without it feeling like a dull history book. Each character adds a little something to the story, and even though it was hard to keep track of them at times, the fact that there are so many of them adds to the charm. Homegoing is without doubt a very powerful and well researched historical fiction novel that I can recommend to any fan of the genre with my eyes closed.

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Two half-sisters are separated by forces beyond their control: Esi is sold into slavery, while Effia was married to a British slaver. Their future and and those of their future generations of family have been changed forever by this fate, and their destinies will eventually lead them through two continents and three hundred years of history. The true legacy of slavery will be revealed with its many many aspects, all with the help of these two generations of families.

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While not perfect, Homegoing is without doubt well researched and is one of the most interesting books on slavery I’ve read to this date. Thanks to the three hundred years and different generations of those families, Yaa Gyasi is able to talk about so many important fact relating to both slavery and race problematics in general. And even though the pace is a bit slow and the sheer amount of characters can get confusing, there is no doubt that this is an excellent historical fiction novel with a powerful message.

ARC REVIEW: The Summer That Melted Everything – by Tiffany McDaniel

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Title: The Summer That Melted Everything
Author: Tiffany McDaniel
Genre: Fiction, Contemporary
First published: July 26th 2016
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Finished reading: July 21st 2016
Pages: 320
Rating 5qqq

“The heat came with the devil. It was the summer of 1984, and while the devil had been invited, the heat had not. It should’ve been expected, though. Heat is, after all, the devil’s name, and when’s the last time you left home without yours?”

*** A copy of this book was kindly provided to me by Netgalley and St. Martin’s Press in exchange for an honest review. Thank you! ***

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Wow. It doesn’t happen often, but this book left me speechless. The reviews were definitely right; this debut by Tiffany McDaniel is simply brilliant! I have to be honest and say I wasn’t sure it was going to be for me, because I normally don’t really like stories with a ‘strong’ religious touch… But The Summer That Melted Everything turned out to be so much more than that. I still feel overwhelmed by this story and the feelings it managed to provoke; the prose is just THAT strong. In fact, both the excellent writing, the hint of magical realism and the discrimination/intolerance theme turned The Summer That Melted Everything into one of the best books I’ve read so far this year. Through the eyes of the main character Fielding Bliss and that dreadful summer of 1984 in the town Breathed, Ohio, we get to see a whole different version of the ‘fairy tale’ 80s. Racism, discrimination, AIDS, intolerance… The heat brings out the worst in the inhabitants of Breathed, and not just because of the rumor that the devil has come to town in the form of a black boy. Each chapter starts with a quote from Paradise Lost and alternates between an older Fielding and the young Fielding during that summer in 1984. And both Fielding and the other main characters are without well developed and intriguing characters! There are many different elements to the story, but Tiffany McDaniel did an excellent job of interconnecting them (the increasingly unbearable heat being a great symbol for the rising tensions). In short, I can say The Summer That Melted Everything is without doubt a must-read for any fan of contemporary and literary fiction with a touch of magical realism.

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During the summer of 1984, the lives of those living in Breathed, Ohio, have changed forever. It all started when Autopsy Bliss, the local prosecutor, invited the devil in an article and not soon after a bruised and tattered thirteen-year-old boy showed up out of nowhere claiming to be the devil himself. Fielding Bliss is the one that found him and when he brings Sal home, he is welcomed into the Bliss family assuming he is a runaway. But not everybody is happy to welcome Sal into their town. In fact, more and more people seem to suspect his claim to be the devil, especially after an unbearable heat wave rolls into town at the same time Sal showed up. The increasing temperatures only make tensions rise even further, and when strange accidents start to happen, the town starts pointing their fingers to that strange black boy; believing that Sal is exactly who he claims to be and that he has to be punished. Will the heat drive them to do something terrible?

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This book turned out to be even better than I hoped. Not only is the prose simply brilliant, but it also addresses quite a few important themes in such a way that it can definitely be called an eye-opener. These themes are mixed with a touch of magical realism that only made this story that much more original; the intriguing and well developed characters and the descriptions making it really easy to enjoy this book. The Summer That Melted Everything will be published tomorrow and is without doubt worth the read!

BOOK REVIEW: The Reader On The 6.27 – by Jean-Paul Didierlaurent

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Title: The Reader On The 6.27
Author: Jean-Paul Didierlaurent
Genre: Contemporary, Fiction
First published: May 5th 2014
Finished reading: May 12th 2016
Pages: 256
(Originally written in French: “Le liseur du 6h27”)
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“For all those fellow commuters, he was the reader, the bizarre character who each weekday would read out, in a loud, clear voice, from the handful of pages he extracted from his briefcase.”

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I picked up my copy of The Reader On The 6.27 on a whim after I saw it mentioned somewhere on a list of books about books. I normally prefer reading the story in its original language, but since my French is a little (read: a lot!) rusty I had no choice but read the English translation. I still wish I would have been able to read Jean-Paul Didierlaurent‘s French prose, but that doesn’t take away this was one excellent story. It is true there isn’t that much of a plot to speak of, but that only brings more attention to the excellent prose. Part of the story almost felt like Fahrenheit 451 (especially the book destroying machine called ‘The Thing’ and the factory in general), but this novel is mostly something completely different that will appeal to most true book lovers out there. The main character Guylain Vignolles hates his job at the book pulping factory and decides to defy the system in his own small way by saving a few random book pages stuck in the bottom of the machine every day. Then every morning on his commute to the factory, he actually reads those random pages out loud to the other passengers! Such an inspiring idea… His quest to find the owner of the usb stick he finds on the train is quite entertaining to read as well, not to mention the random pages, multiple alexandrines and charm of the characters themselves. The Reader On The 6.27 is in one word ‘magnifique‘! Definitely worth reading if you are looking for something different and beautifully written.

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Guylain Vignolles doesn’t exactly have an exciting life. He practically doesn’t have any friends, shares his small appartment with his goldfish and hates his job at the book pulping factory to an extent that even his own mother doesn’t know how he really earns his money. The only thing he looks forward to on his seemingly endless days are his journeys on the 6.27 train. Each morning on his commute to the factory, Guylain opens his case, takes out a few pages he rescued himself from the book pulping machine he calls The Thing the day before and starts reciting aloud the words on those random pages. He doesn’t even make contact with the other passengers, but this daily escape from his reality helps him stay sane. Then one day Guylain finds an abandoned usb stick on the train. He tries to figure out who the owner is, but the only file on it is a diary without a full name or return address… Guylain falls in love with the voice of the young author Julie, and is determined to find her .

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To be honest, I wasn’t sure what to expect when I first heard about The Reader On The 6.27, but I was more than pleasantly surprised with what I’ve found. This is without doubt a charming story with interesting characters, beautiful prose, a fast pace and many many bookish references. The random pages, diary entries and alexandrines didn’t distract at all from the main story and actually made me enjoy this book more. Recommended!

BOOK REVIEW: All The Light We Cannot See – by Anthony Doerr

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Title: All The Light We Cannot See
Author: Anthony Doerr
Genre: Historical Fiction
First published: May 6th 2014
Finished reading: February 24th 2016
Pages: 530
Rating 5qqq

“When I lost my sight, Werner, people said I was brave. When my father left, people said I was brave. But it is not bravery; I have no choice. I wake up and live my life. Don’t you do the same?”

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I have been wanting to read All The Light We Cannot See ever since it was first published, but somehow I kept posponing it. Maybe it was because of the fact that it won a Pulitzer and I was intimidated, maybe because I’ve seen so many loving this book and I was afraid it didn’t live up to expectations, but now that I’ve read it I wish I would have picked up this novel by Anthony Doerr sooner. I love historical fiction and I have a special interesting in stories set during WWII; it goes without saying that All The Light We Cannot See instantly made it to my list of all time favorite WWII reads. Words cannot describe how beautiful this book is. The prose is simply gorgeous and both the plot and characters are well developed, turning this story into something both unique and breathtaking. The story follows the two main characters, Marie-Laure and Werner, as they are growing up under the shadow of the (upcoming) war, and I really loved seeing those completely different storylines slowly intertwine. It’s a beautiful, breathtaking, sad and original story that will leave you speechless even before you reach the last page. If you like the genre, make sure you read All The Light We Cannot See.

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When Marie-Laure is six, she slowly goes blind and has to rediscover the small things in life. Her father works in the Museum of Natural History in Paris and helps his daughter by creating a perfect miniature of their neighborhood so she can learn to navigate her way home. Marie-Laure is by no means a helpless little girl and she learns quickly to adapt to her new situation. When she is twelve, she has to put those new skills into practice when the Nazis occupy Paris and they have to flee the city… They try to make it to Saint-Malo, where Marie-Laure’s great-uncle lives. What she doesn’t know is that her father might be carrying the museum’s most valuable and dangerous jewel with him…

In a small mining town in German, Werner and his younger sister grow up in an orphanage. Werner has been curious ever since he was little and his intelligence starts to show when he is constantly trying to build and fix instruments. His talent wins him a place at an academy for Hitler Youth, where he continues to shine due to his intelligence. But Werner is not so sure he can live with the consequences of his actions…Especially after he is given a special assignment to track the resistance and has to travel through the heart of the war. What will happen to both Marie-Laure and Werner?

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If you normally enjoy reading historical fiction, I’m sure All The Light We Cannot See will be able to take your breath away. Not only is this story exceptionally well written with beautiful prose, but it also has a very intriguing plot and well developed characters. It’s a sad, beautiful and unique story that shows how a war can affect both children and adults alike and that hope can always be found if you look for it hard enough. I feel like my words are failing to describe just how brilliant this book is… But if you think this book sounds interesting, I suggest to just read All The Light We Cannot See. I’m sure you won’t be disappointed!

BOOK REVIEW: The Goldfinch – by Donna Tartt

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Title: The Goldfinch
Author: Donna Tartt
Genre: Contemporary, Fiction
First published: October 22nd 2013
Finished reading: August 31st 2015
Pages: 771
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“And as much as I’d like to believe there’s a truth beyond illusion, I’ve come to believe that there’s no truth beyond illusion. Because, between ‘reality’ on the one hand, and the point where the mind strikes reality, there’s a middle zone, a rainbow edge where beauty comes into being, where two very different surfaces mingle and blur to provide what life does not: and this is the space where all art exists, and all magic.”

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I’ve had a copy of The Goldfinch on my TBR shelf pretty much ever since it came out, but somehow I have been a bit hesitant to actually start reading it. It’s quite a big read and although I normally don’t mind those, I’ve heard a lot of complaints about the slow pace (especially in the beginning). I will have to agree with those complaints. There is no doubt that The Goldfinch is a very well written novel and I enjoyed Donna Tartt‘s prose in general. But the mere fact that it took me almost two months to actually finish the novel and I was able to finish no less than 44! other novels while I was ‘not’ reading this one says a lot about The Goldfinch… The story itself is very interesting and I liked the idea of the journey of both the main character and the painting, but the pace was so slow that it took me a hard time to stay focused. I have the feeling that I would have liked the novel a lot better if it would have been at least 200 pages shorter. Sure, that way it loses some of its literary value, but it would be way more pleasant to read. Would I recommend this one? If you like literary fiction, love art and don’t mind a big book with a slow pace, The Goldfinch is without doubt an interesting read.

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Theo Decker survives an explosion in a New York museum and a valuable painting comes into his possession. His mother didn’t survive the accident and his father had abandoned them some time before, so Theo finds him without a real home. He is taken in by the family of a wealthy friend and is having difficulties adapting to this new strange life without his mother. The only thing that reminds him of her is the small captivating painting of a goldfinch; a painting the whole world has been looking for ever since the explosion. The goldfinch travels with Theo throughout the years and brings him to different cities, adventures and even countries. As an adult, the painting has become dangerous and is his actions all those years ago came back to haunt him…

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The Goldfinch is without doubt a beautifully written novel and I can understand why it won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. Still, the pace was so slow in the beginning that it is very hard to stay focused and continue reading until the pace finally picks up. The last part set in Amsterdam is without doubt the part with the most action in it, and I really enjoyed the many cultural references. It made me crave some of the local food; boy do I miss zuurkool! The prose is very well written and I found many inspiring quotes while I was reading. That said, I don’t think The Goldfinch is a read for everyone. If you have the time and don’t mind the effort, it can be an interesting read though.