Book review: Sea of Memories by Fiona Valpy


Book Cover

Title: Sea of Memories

Author: Fiona Valpy

Genre: Historical Fiction

Publisher: Lake Union Publishing

Publication date: 1st March 2018

My rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Synopsis:

When Kendra first visits her ailing grandmother, Ella has only one request: that Kendra write her story down, before she forgets…
In 1937, seventeen-year-old Ella’s life changes forever when she is sent to spend the summer on the beautiful Île de Ré and meets the charismatic, creative Christophe. They spend the summer together, exploring the island’s sandy beaches and crystal-clear waters, and, for the first time in her life, Ella feels truly free.
But the outbreak of war casts everything in a new light. Ella is forced to return to Scotland, where she volunteers for the war effort alongside the dashing Angus. In this new world, Ella feels herself drifting further and further from who she was on the Île de Ré. Can she ever find her way back? And does she want to?
From the windswept Île de Ré to the rugged hills of Scotland, Sea of Memories is a spellbinding journey about the power of memory, love and second chances.

My review:

Sometimes we all come across a book by chance without realising how special and remarkable it would turn out to be. This was one of those books. Looking back I honestly can’t remember why I chose to read it but I am glad that I did. From the very first page we are immediately transported to another world, the wonders of Île de Ré beautifully portrayed and a life that appears almost perfect. All characters are superbly refined and it was a pleasure joining Ella and Christophe in their adventures on the island during their youth and their struggles after the war. Do not be fooled by the synopsis which hints the usual war romance – the themes explored in this book are heavy but addressed with a lot of care, from friendship to heartache and bravery. Ella’s courage upon volunteering for one of the most dangerous negotiations during the war was impressive and very commendable and was perhaps my favourite part of this book.

The dual story line between past and present day was very well executed, an impressive skill in my opinion when considering how difficult it is to master without hindering the natural flow of the plot. I found myself intrigued in Ella’s story and was anxious to learn how her life developed post-war but I admit that the present day interactions between Ella and Kendra were also engaging. Here we discover Ella’s difficult relationship with her daughter and the reason she turns to her granddaughter Kendra instead when requesting for her story to be written. I would have liked a more complete introduction to Kendra because it felt as if she was only written into the novel to tell Ella’s story but I am sure that there was more to her character that could have been explored.

My principal complaint about this novel is a very specific part at the Île de Ré towards the end of the book which involves Ella, her first love Christopher and her husband Angus. Without giving too much away, this particular incident felt forced and odd for Ella when looking back on all the heartbreak and difficult moments in her life. I almost felt inclined to discard this moment and only consider the positives of the book but I felt this scene too important to overlook when rating the book. Overall, I adored the setting and characters in past day and, had there been a deeper focus on present day, this book would have most likely received 5 stars from me.

Studious Saturday: Three Bookish Things Book Tag

studious saturdays

 

I was tagged by Bibi who you should definitely follow if you aren’t doing so already because her blog is beautiful! I thought long and hard about some of these answers and I think I have finally managed to pick my top three:

Three Read Once and Loved Authors

The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris – This book is incredible and Heather Morris is excellent at storytelling. This was her debut and she hasn’t written anything else but if she does I would be one of the first to read it. Find my thoughts on it here.

The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah – I still remember how this book made me feel even though it has been more than a year since I last read it. It is raw and heart breaking but so worth reading. I haven’t read anything else by this author but I should really look into some of her other books.

The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein – It’s no secret to anyone who knows me well that I love dogs and the first person narrative by Enzo here really attracted me to this book. I’d really like to read Racing in the Rain: My Life as a Dog next.

Three Titles I’ve Watched But Haven’t Read

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood – I am a huge fan of this show and was blown away by the ending of the second season but for some reason I still haven’t read the book. It’s on my TBR list but it’s not the usual kind of book I would pick up due to the heavy subject matter so I’m waiting for the right moment when I feel ready to start it.

Life of Pi by Yann Martel – I loved the movie but I’ve also seen lots of negative reviews on the book which makes me question if it is worth reading.

The Bourne Series by Robert Ludlum – Matt Damon feels perfect for the role of Jason Bourne and I thought the movies were exciting and very well executed. However, I have read some passages of the books by Robert Ludlum and I find his writing style and unusual choice of words unappealing so I won’t be reading the series.

Three Characters You Love

Allan Karlsson – Anyone who has read The Hundred Year old Man who Climbed out of the Window and Disappeared will probably understand why I picked Allan in this category. His quirks and intricacies are delightful and it was a joy following his long and extraordinary journey.

Emma Clifton – You may wonder why I chose Emma over Harry here but bearing in mind how masculine Jeffrey Archer’s novels are, it was refreshing and surprising to read a strong and determined female character.

Robert Langdon – The situations this character gets himself into during Dan Brown’s series are quite incredible and I was in awe of his knowledge and perseverance, especially in Angels and Demons.

Three Series Binged

The Four Streets Trilogy by Nadine Dorries

Divergent Series by Veronica Roth

The Clifton Chronicles by Jeffrey Archer

Three Unpopular Bookish Opinions

This is probably the most unpopular opinion for any bookworm but here goes… I don’t have a bookcase or any physical books in my current home! I know – it’s certainly unusual and might seem blasphemous to other readers but unfortunately it’s true. I live in a very small flat which, quite literally, does not have any space for a bookcase even though I love paper books over ebooks. For now, I make do by reading everything on my kindle and hope to one day live in a much larger place with plenty of space for several bookcases.

I can’t watch others bend a book backwards on its spine. It makes me feel so uncomfortable, especially when they then straighten out the page they want to read by running their hand over the inside of the spine!

I have to agree with Bibi on her tag that I also have lots of trouble with DNFing a book. Once I start reading a book I have to finish it otherwise I feel that I am disrespecting the author who has put so much effort into writing it.

Three Goals for the Year

I hope to achieve my Goodreads challenge of reading 50 books this year. Unfortunately I’m currently 5 books behind schedule but I have been reading a lot lately so I feel it’s still possible!

I’m usually very open to new genres but there are still many genres that I haven’t yet explored and would like to. Sci Fi falls into this category and I already have a few books in my TBR pile that I hope to read this year.

Living in Spain means that I spend most of my time speaking Spanish so this is perhaps the reason I only read in English. However, there are many contemporary Spanish authors who I would like to discover and I hope to do so by the end of this year.

I tag:

You! If you are reading this and would like to do this tag then please do so! I love reading other people’s choices and this tag is especially fun so I recommend it to anyone interested. Thank you to Bibi for tagging me and to anyone who is reading this and have an amazing weekend!

Book review: The Map of Us by Jules Preston


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Title: The Map of Us

Author: Jules Preston

Genre: Romance

Publisher: HarperImpulse

Publication date: 4th May 2018

My rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Synopsis:

Violet North is wonderfully inconvenient. Abandoned by her family and lost in an imagined world of moors and adventure, her life changes in the space of just 37 words exchanged with a stranger at her front door.

Decades later, Daniel Bearing has inherited his father’s multi-million pound business, and is utterly lost. He has no idea who he is or where his life is headed.

When Violet’s granddaughter’s marriage falls apart, Tilly, always adept with numbers, compiles a detailed statistical report to pinpoint why. But the Compatibility Index Tilly creates has unforeseen consequences for everyone in her world.

Tilly and Daniel share a secret too. 10.37am, April 22nd.
Soon, a complex web of secrets and lies is exposed and an adventure begins with a blue typewriter…

My review:

It’s not often that I come across a book with such a distinct style of writing so I was pleasantly surprised with the choppy and quirky narrative. However, it wasn’t quite for me; the story line was monotonous and the characters  too flat for my liking.

Around halfway into the book the reader starts to understand the direction the story is following and the characters’ plot lines begin to intertwine. I enjoyed Tilly’s story and the Compatibility Index that she ultimately designs to explain why her marriage is failing. Looking back, I also think that the author revealed the link between Tilly and Violet in a very clever way and it was a joy following Tilly in her adventure to pursue her grandmother’s tales.

This was an uplifting and inspiring book and I wish that I was more patient at the start rather than rushing to understand from the beginning how the characters are connected. I recommend it to anyone who is looking for something different and is able to look past the short chapters and unconventional writing style.

 

Book review: The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris


Book Cover

Title: The Tattooist of Auschwitz

Author: Heather Morris

Genre: Historical Fiction

Publisher: Zaffre

Publication date: 11th January 2018

My rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Synopsis:

I tattooed a number on her arm. She tattooed her name on my heart.
In 1942, Lale Sokolov arrived in Auschwitz-Birkenau. He was given the job of tattooing the prisoners marked for survival – scratching numbers into his fellow victims’ arms in indelible ink to create what would become one of the most potent symbols of the Holocaust. 
Waiting in line to be tattooed, terrified and shaking, was a young girl. For Lale – a dandy, a jack-the-lad, a bit of a chancer – it was love at first sight. And he was determined not only to survive himself, but to ensure this woman, Gita, did, too.
So begins one of the most life-affirming, courageous, unforgettable and human stories of the Holocaust: the love story of the tattooist of Auschwitz.

My review:

This was an incredibly difficult book to put down despite how harrowing and complex the subject matter is. Perhaps what makes it even more challenging is the knowledge from the start that it tells the true story of Lale, a survivor of Auschwitz, and that all the difficulties he faced as the tattooist were real. It may be a horrifying story but the overwhelming themes of courage, loyalty and the willingness to survive are present throughout making the book truly gripping.

Apart from the strong willed character of Lale, this book also manifests similar strong traits through the hardships that Gita and Cilka lived through, from disease to malnutrition to abuse. The writing is very matter-of-fact and the author doesn’t delve much into the characters emotions, yet as the event of Auschwitz unfold, the reader is able to interpret the mixture of feelings experienced in such a confinement.

I am pleased that I decided to read this novel after much doubt. It is important that stories like Lale’s are retold and reconstructed so the horrors of war are not forgotten and are avoided. What made this book stand out from others in this genre was the brilliant way that the author gave Lale a voice and retold his story with honesty, proving how sincere relationships can form even in the most extreme situations. Everyone must read this book, regardless of the intricacy it boasts, to fully appreciate the buried memoirs of many prisoners that are finally being unearthed.