The Four Winds by Kristin Hannah

Texas, 1934. Millions are out of work and a drought has broken the Great Plains. Farmers are fighting to keep their land and their livelihoods as the crops are failing, the water is drying up, and dust threatens to bury them all. One of the darkest periods of the Great Depression, the Dust Bowl era, has arrived with a vengeance. 

In this uncertain and dangerous time, Elsa Martinelli—like so many of her neighbors—must make an agonizing choice: fight for the land she loves or go west, to California, in search of a better life. The Four Winds is an indelible portrait of America and the American Dream, as seen through the eyes of one indomitable woman whose courage and sacrifice will come to define a generation.

Disclaimer: I received this book for review from NetGalley. Read below for my spoiler-free review.

Kristin Hannah is well-known within the realm of literary fiction for her tales of love and loss. Her newest historical fiction, The Four Winds, is the first I’ve read from her, and her reputation for gripping and heartbreaking stories held true…for the most part.

I will start by saying that although I am not predisposed towards the Dustbowl/Great Depression era (or much of American history in the early 20th century), I did end up appreciating the insight as to how life would have treated someone during this time. Similar to pandemic circumstances, there was the constant loom of uncertainty and fear as people struggled to feed their families. For that reason, I think this book is a particularly timely release that may shine some hope upon dark times.

To me, the most interesting part of the story was seeing how those who had lost everything to the environmental ruin of the Dust Bowl reacted to the apathy and greed of wealthy Americans. Their struggle for survival was fascinating to read about, especially since the events are historically based. This story would have been a great supplement to learning about this era from a textbook, and Hannah clearly did her research.

Unfortunately, a large chunk of the story is focused solely on the childhood/early adulthood of our protagonist, Elsa. Hannah’s goal was clearly to show a strong arc of her character development, but I could not stand her for half of the book. I understand that how she was treated bred trauma that she couldn’t shake, but I was too frustrated to sympathize. That, combined with the repetition and slow pace of the first half of the book, made it a chore trudging through.

That being said, I do think the ending was good enough to make the slower parts of the book feel rewarding. I do realize that there needed to be buildup to reach the conclusion that The Four Winds came to. The last fifth of the book was fast-paced and absolutely heartbreaking, which is why I am bumping my initial review of 3 stars up to 3.5.

Another thing I really appreciated was that the relationships focused on motherhood and the bond between siblings (with a tiny amount of romance in between). The love that I could feel through the pages made me want to call my own mom and remind her of how much she means to me. I think that Hannah’s ability to convey strong emotion speaks volumes to her skill as a writer.

TLDR; starts out slow, ending is worth it, you’ll probably learn something, you’ll definitely cry.

Happy reading,

Lore by Alexandra Bracken

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. All thoughts are my own.

Every seven years, the Agon begins. As punishment for a past rebellion, nine Greek gods are forced to walk the earth as mortals, hunted by the descendants of ancient bloodlines, all eager to kill a god and seize their divine power and immortality. Long ago, Lore Perseous fled that brutal world in the wake of her family’s sadistic murder by a rival line, turning her back on the hunt’s promises of eternal glory. For years she’s pushed away any thought of revenge against the man–now a god–responsible for their deaths.

Yet as the next hunt dawns over New York City, two participants seek out her help: Castor, a childhood friend of Lore believed long dead, and a gravely wounded Athena, among the last of the original gods.

The goddess offers an alliance against their mutual enemy and, at last, a way for Lore to leave the Agon behind forever. But Lore’s decision to bind her fate to Athena’s and rejoin the hunt will come at a deadly cost–and still may not be enough to stop the rise of a new god with the power to bring humanity to its knees.

Good to know:

  • TW: sexual assault, gore, violence
  • (Probably) a standalone
  • YA urban fantasy
  • 450 pages

Hey everyone, I hope you’ve been staying safe and keeping busy! I know the past few months have given me the chance to read a lot of the books I’ve been eyeing, and I was super excited to receive an arc of this one.

Lore follows the story of Melora Perseus, the last of the descendants of the hero Perseus (I recommend reading the synopsis above, it’s a bit hard to explain the premise). It’s filled to the brim with fight scenes, romance, and good old Greek god drama. It is definitely a unique take that I was excited to jump into–I went in with expectations of something in the vein of Percy Jackson.

Unfortunately, Lore was written with the same simplistic style of Percy Jackson without the lovable characters or gripping plot. From the start, I was quite disappointed by the way things progressed; it followed the formula of a typical YA–all action, no substance. The story moved at a non-stop pace, but I was never brought to the edge of my seat and it was almost a chore to keep reading. The writing lacked subtlety and the “plot twists”, while somewhat unexpected, felt inconsequential.

I never felt connected to the characters or invested in their story. I feel like Bracken tried to create an anti-hero complex within Lore, but it was shallow and a bit confusing. Lore and the lover boy had zero chemistry and the friendships were absolutely lackluster. The side characters were basically cardboard and the antagonists are out-villained by Doctor Doofenshmirtz. There were violent scenes that were horrible to read and didn’t contribute much beyond shock factor.

I feel like I don’t have much beyond complaints for this one. It was a long book that I didn’t enjoy very much. I can’t tell if it’s because I’ve outgrown YA or because this one was particularly bad. Based on my past experiences with Alexandra Bracken (which weren’t great), I’m hoping it’s the latter.

If you’re looking for Greek-mythology inspired books, I recommend Circe or Song of Achilles.

To Sleep in a Sea of Stars by Christopher Paolini

Rating: 4 out of 5.
Shielded (Shielded, #1) by KayLynn Flanders

During a routine survey mission on an uncolonized planet, Kira finds an alien relic. At first she’s delighted, but elation turns to terror when the ancient dust around her begins to move.

As war erupts among the stars, Kira is launched into a galaxy-spanning odyssey of discovery and transformation. First contact isn’t at all what she imagined, and events push her to the very limits of what it means to be human. 

While Kira faces her own horrors, Earth and its colonies stand upon the brink of annihilation. Now, Kira might be humanity’s greatest and final hope . . .

So I was a middle-grade reader of the Inheritance Cycle and at that point in my life I absolutely loved it. Rereading it recently opened my eyes to some of the flaws that I may not have noticed all those years ago, but it will always hold a special place in my heart. That being said, when I heard about this new book, I was incredibly excited to see how Paolini had evolved, despite my being less enthusiastic about sci-fi.

Turns out this kind of sci-fi is definitely my style. It took Paolini years of rewrites to come out with the final product…and it shows. This was an adventure of epic proportions, and I am still stunned at how he managed to build such an intricate story with philosophical themes about what it means to be human and the value of life in general. This was an 900-page behemoth that kept me turning pages nonstop.

This novel isn’t just “pew pew” back and forth until the bad guy is dead (although there is a lot of that); there are elements that I wouldn’t have expected to see in a sci-fi like this. The character development of our main character, Kira, is pretty astounding. She’s smart and brave while still having moments of doubt and anguish. She’s the perfect companion for this sort of adventure, and I was so proud of who she had become by the end of the book. I don’t think the other characters were nearly as well-developed, but honestly I’m ok with that since everything was from her perspective anyway. Her character arc encompassed a lot of the aspects that brought depth into the story; her exploration of morality and self took this to another level for me. Seeing her struggles of being human juxtaposed against the alien lifeforms/technologies made her decisions relatable while still leaving room for the wonders of the universe.

Also, I was pleasantly surprised by the prose. The Eragon series is a bit notorious for its lack of artistry, and I think Paolini has come a long way in that regard. He has always been a strong storyteller, and this time I think the language was able to reinforce that skill. It wasn’t flowery or especially individualistic, but I think that’s ok for a novel of this length. Having streamlined (but well-written) prose for 900 pages is definitely preferable, at least in my opinion.

There were a few plot points that kind of fizzled out without any bearing on the main direction of the story, which was a bit frustrating. I wish these hadn’t been included because they just made the plot drag a bit. In addition, I think there was a bit too much extraneous description that could have also been trimmed away (descriptions of walking from point A to point B, etc.). Overall, though, I think To Sleep followed a nice arc that wrapped up with a perfectly ambiguous ending. It left a lot of room for thought while still being satisfying.

There are a few things in the afterword that really just made me want to read this again, including affirmation of Eragon Easter eggs as well as a hint towards deeper meanings of certain things in the book. Maybe someone will do an analysis of this one day so that I don’t have to…

Anyways, that about sums up my initial thoughts. I would highly recommend this to Paolini lovers, even if sci-fi isn’t your cup of tea. I think the story was really well done, and I’m so glad I got to see the universe from Kira’s eyes. It’s clear that there is a true love for the beauty of the unknown parts of the vast world we live in. While I may not understand all of the technical jargon*, the wonder and trepidation of being such a small piece in the universe is something I have a lot of appreciation for.

*For those of you who are not comfortable in sci-fi settings, I was in the same boat (ship?) and I don’t think it detracted from my experience. While there is a fair amount of technical jargon, I found that it was fine that I wasn’t able to follow it exactly (also, I’m not sure if it was actually logical technicalities or if it was a load of baloney). I thought that the culture/dialogue was built up well enough that I could understand the gist of what was happening during the especially tech-heavy scenes.

Piranesi by Susanna Clarke

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Piranesi’s house is no ordinary building: its rooms are infinite, its corridors endless, its walls are lined with thousands upon thousands of statues, each one different from all the others. Within the labyrinth of halls an ocean is imprisoned; waves thunder up staircases, rooms are flooded in an instant. But Piranesi is not afraid; he understands the tides as he understands the pattern of the labyrinth itself. He lives to explore the house.

There is one other person in the house-a man called The Other, who visits Piranesi twice a week and asks for help with research into A Great and Secret Knowledge. But as Piranesi explores, evidence emerges of another person, and a terrible truth begins to unravel, revealing a world beyond the one Piranesi has always known.

For readers of Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane and fans of Madeline Miller’s CircePiranesi introduces an astonishing new world, an infinite labyrinth, full of startling images and surreal beauty, haunted by the tides and the clouds.

Piranesi is definitely best read without any prior knowledge. I didn’t know much about it before I started it, and I’m glad that I got to discover the world on my own.

For that reason, I don’t intend to seriously analyze any part of the book, just deliver my opinion in the case that it will help you make the decision about whether or not you want to pick this up.

First of all–it’s weird. Like really weird. Random things are Capitalized with No Apparent Reasoning behind it. It makes the book choppy and quite difficult to flow through, at least for the beginning. The characters are quirky and parts of the plot do not Make Sense. You will be confused for about a third of the book, and by that point you might find it a bit monotonous. Based on other reviews I’ve read, most people speed through it (me included), but I can see how others found it a bit of a drag at times.

Luckily, all of this weirdness resulted in a lovely atmosphere. For the most part, the book was utterly captivating, and I agree with praise that compares its tone to Circe by Madeline Miller. It felt dreamy and ethereal, hard to grasp but also a bit nostalgic. Unfortunately, I think Clarke’s attempt to explain things towards the end was a bit disenchanting to me. It was almost The Secret History-esque in how it lost its air of mystery with explicit “here’s why this happened” dialogue. Which leads my to my next point:

I think it’s one of those books that has to simmer. My first conclusion upon finishing it was that I was not impressed. I thought the plot was predictable and a little conventional, at least as far as other similar magical-realism-type fantasy goes. However, after sitting on it for a while, I’ve come to appreciate its nuances and subtleties a bit more. It has some themes that are relevant to things many of us have experienced during the past year, and for me it provided a little hope and comfort regarding that. It was surprisingly wholesome and will provide food for thought for a while. It’s quite short, so really there’s not much of a downside in giving it a go.

Happy reading,