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,

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,

The Forgotten Kingdom by Signe Pike (Release Day & Review)

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

AD 573. Imprisoned in her chamber, Languoreth awaits news in torment. Her husband and son have ridden off to wage war against her brother, Lailoken. She doesn’t yet know that her young daughter, Angharad, who was training with Lailoken to become a Wisdom Keeper, has been lost in the chaos. As one of the bloodiest battles of early medieval Scottish history scatters its survivors to the wind, Lailoken and his men must flee to exile in the mountains of the Lowlands, while nine-year-old Angharad must summon all Lailoken has taught her and follow her own destiny through the mysterious, mystical land of the Picts.

In the aftermath of the battle, old political alliances unravel, opening the way for the ambitious adherents of the new religion: Christianity. Lailoken is half-mad with battle sickness, and Languoreth must hide her allegiance to the Old Way to survive her marriage to the next Christian king of Strathclyde. Worst yet, the new King of the Angles is bent on expanding his kingdom at any cost. Now the exiled Lailoken, with the help of a young warrior named Artur, may be the only man who can bring the Christians and the pagans together to defeat the encroaching Angles. But to do so, he must claim the role that will forever transform him. He must become the man known to history as “Myrddin.”

Bitter rivalries are ignited, lost loves are found, new loves are born, and old enemies come face-to-face with their reckoning in this compellingly fresh look at one of the most enduring legends of all time. 

Hi all!

I just want to with a big happy release day to one of my most anticipated releases of 2020, The Forgotten Kingdom by Signe Pike. Huge thanks to Atria Books for sending out an ARC so I could get in on the action a little earlier.

For those of you who haven’t read the first novel of the planned trilogy, I’d highly recommend you check out The Lost Queen. The book follows Lailoken, the man who is supposed to have inspired the legend of Merlin, and his “forgotten” sister Languoreth as they navigate religion, politics, and love in 6th-century Scotland. The novel is a heavily-researched historical fiction with a lush setting, beautifully rich characters and culture, and incredibly sweet love stories (of the sibling, romantic, and platonic variety). I’d recommend it for fans of Outlander (although, unpopular opinion, I think Outlander is overrated and this is much more appealing to me).

But moving on to the second book…wow! I won’t give any spoilers for either of the books, but this one picks up about twenty years after the first one ends. I was a little sad to see how my favorite characters fared (*ahem suffered*) as they grew older, but they continued to develop beautifully in this installment, and we got insight into some amazing new faces as well.

My favorite part of any historical novel is the portrayal of culture and how the author adapts it to the story and modern perspectives, and this book was no different. There is a continual development into the belief system of the early Scots, with emphasis on the cultural prominence of priestesses & Celtic Wisdom Keepers and how they practiced their religion. One thing that I found fascinating was that Signe Pike mentioned classifying this novel as historical fiction rather than historical fantasy in her Author’s Note. She discusses how she writes the characters with the second sight as they would have actually had it in the past–it is more about interpreting signs and meditation/spirituality than fantastical magic. Because these ideas are rooted in a polytheistic (“pagan”) belief system, they are generally given less credence than something like prayers in Christianity. I loved seeing how this played out, and, reading the Author’s Note, I was impressed by the level of thought and research that went into portraying this.

This book was, however, a little more focused on the bloody physical wars of Scotland’s history rather than the more idealogical wars between the “old Gods” and Christianity. For that reason, I think it was a bit less of a pull for me, since that is a topic I am incredibly interested in. I think the battles started to lose my interest at times, which is why this book is a bit less successful than the first (in my opinion, of course). Still, the plot was intriguing and still very much a page-turner.

The writing was rich and atmospheric, and Pike’s love and respect for the setting really shone. Pretty much everything was spot-on for me, and for that reason, I think this novel is something the author should be proud to have next to The Lost Queen. The series is especially impressive considering the historical basis that Pike has compiled as the foundation for this world. I can’t wait to see where this story takes us next.

Happy reading,

The Indivisible and the Void by D.M. Wozniak

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Each year, Democryos sends his brightest student into the war-torn countryside to work magic. But when his wife leaves him for a mysterious stranger, he finds his own life ravaged.

Forsaking the comfort of the citadel, he searches for her, traveling through the same forgotten lands where he sent his students. Along the way, he befriends an elusive member of the king’s harem, a holy man harboring guilt, and a maimed soldier. Together, they stumble upon a key—not only to the war, but to understanding the magic of voidance itself.

I received this from Net Galley in exchange for an honest review (it’s spoiler-free!!).

Continue reading “The Indivisible and the Void by D.M. Wozniak”