“City of Thieves” by David Benioff

Historical Fiction

Prior to reading “City of Thieves” by David Benioff, I knew pretty much nothing about Russia. Now I know that it sounds terrible. During World War II, at least.

benioffLev is a very self-conscious Jewish teenager living in Leningrad during World War II, trying his hardest to stay alive. When he gets arrested for looting the body of a German pilot, he finds himself stuck in a jail cell with Kolya, a twenty two year old Slavic deserter and aspiring novelist. Rather than being killed for their crimes, they are given a special assignment instead: the Colonel’s daughter is having a wedding in a few days, and she wants a wedding cake. So begins Lev and Kolya’s mission to find a dozen eggs to bake the Colonel a cake and spare their lives.

As ridiculous as the premise sounds, I was genuinely surprised at how much I enjoyed this book. Filled with dark humor, the relationship between Lev, a shy, awkward, teen, and the confident and cocky Kolya never ceased to be entertaining. Benioff communicates the horrors of war in a way that made me feel like I was laughing at all the wrong moments. For example, when he states that cannibals go for the buttocks first because that’s where you can make the best patties from. Horrifying, yet funny. Lev and Kolya’s misadventures provided a lighthearted story that is layered on top of a more dark and depressing narrative.

I typically have issues with books about Russia, mostly because the words are hard to pronounce and I had a bad experience with “One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich” in high school. However, Benioff provides an accurate picture of life in Russia while keeping things interesting enough to want me to keep reading. All in all a pretty solid piece of historical fiction with enough humor to keep me going, not too much romantic fluff, and characters I felt I could relate to on a personal level.

4/5

 

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“The Handmaid’s Tale” by Margaret Atwood

Post-Apocalyptic/Dystopian

We are simply going to ignore the fact that I haven’t posted a review since February.

atwoodIf you haven’t read “The Handmaid’s Tale” by Margaret Atwood, stop everything you’re doing and go read it. I’m serious. I love this book. This is my second time reading the dystopian novel, and it was just as good as the first. Written in 1985, “The Handmaid’s Tale” isn’t exactly hot off the presses, but a surprising amount of people I know haven’t heard of it. Now you don’t have an excuse.

Atwood’s novel takes place in the totalitarian Republic of Gilead in the near-future. Society as we know it has collapsed and a new military has taken over, fueled by extreme religious motives that begin integrating their way into society slowly, at first, and then flipping the world upside down. In this new society, women are expected to go back to their original biblical purpose of existing only to be at the disposal of men. In this new society, women have been made barren from chemicals in the air, nuclear disasters, and sexually transmitted diseases, so those who have the ability to conceive are collected and re-educated into Handmaids, who will repopulate the Republic of Gilead. Those unable to conceive are declared Unwomen and sent away. Those who are lucky are made Wives of Commanders, but they are few and far between.

Offred, a Handmaid and our narrator and protagonist, exists for one sole purpose: to conceive. She lives under the control of her Commander and once monthly endures his visits in hopes she may become pregnant and avoid being declared an Unwoman. Like all handmaids, she is forced to wear long red dresses and white winged habits that block her vision and prevent her from seeing her surroundings in her cruel world. She lives a life in which she has no rights. Her name is not even her own, literally meaning Of Fred, taking the name of her Commander.

As we learn about Offred’s world and life in Gilead, we discover that this frightening dystopia is not far off from the present. Offred remembers a time where she had her own family, her own job, and a happy life where women were equal to men.

While many might think that this book sounds a little too far-fetched and feminist to be taken seriously, for me it shows just how quickly things can really go south. In a matter of a few years, everything Offred knows is taken from her and her life is completely changed. While the premise might sound impossible to those of us living the privileged life in the Western world, Atwood makes a point to keep things real by ensuring that all the events that have happened in the Republic of Gilead have also happened, at some point, in real life. If you’re looking for a good read that’s beautifully written and a bit of a reality check, “The Handmaid’s Tale” is definitely for you.

4.5/5

“The Road” by Cormac McCarthy

Post-Apocalyptic/Dystopian

gbmm6lnThe Road by Cormac McCarthy has some seriously mixed reviews on Goodreads. This surprises me, considering it’s won several awards and was made into a movie in 2009. You’re probably like, “why are you reviewing a book that was published 10 years ago? Who even cares?” Whatever, dude. I’ve never read it, it always pops up on different book recommendation websites and threads on reddit and on my “Recommended for You” in the Kindle Store, so why not. Here’s what I thought of The Road:

I definitely should not have finished this book in the middle of class. This book is, in my opinion, more horror than post-apocalyptic fiction. It tells the story of a nameless man and his nameless son traveling south in a version of our world completely devoid of life. Some horrifying event has left the Earth scorched, lifeless, and covered in ash so thick the days blend into the nights. Animals and plants are no longer able to survive. Few humans are left, and the ones who are aren’t the kind you want to be friends with. There you have the basic plot. The story is simple but the events that took place left me both horrified yet hoping that somehow the man and the boy would find a way to persevere. To continue “carrying the fire,” so the man would say.

I’m typically the kind of person that likes more prose-y writing, so this book really did it for me. I know a lot of people aren’t into the whole poetic, minimalist writing style. If that’s not your thing, you might have a hard time with this book. The dialogue can sometimes be difficult to follow due to the lack of punctuation, often apostrophes are left out and quotations are gone entirely. I’m totally cool with that. I think it makes me pay more attention, figure out what’s happening, which character is feeling what. It did get confusing at times. The Road redeems itself in this aspect with the descriptions McCarthy provides. Even though the world he’s describing is completely horrifying, it’s beautifully written.

“He walked out in the gray light and stood and he saw for a brief moment the absolute truth of the world. The cold relentless circling of the intestate earth. Darkness implacable. The blind dogs of the sun in their running. The crushing black vacuum of the universe. And somewhere two hunted animals trembling like ground-foxes in their cover. Borrowed time and borrowed world and borrowed eyes with which to sorrow it”

I loved The Road and I hated The Road. I loved the prose-like feel of it and I thought while the story was relatively simple it kept me engaged the whole time, and I hated it because it made me want to cry. Like I said, I shouldn’t have finished this book in the middle class. It left me depressed and horrified, which is exactly what I wanted it to do.

Rating: 5/5

 

“The Nightingale” by Kristin Hannah

Historical Fiction

Words cannot describe how much I loved The Nightingale. It might be because I’m a sucker for a good WWII novel, but I thi21853621nk it’s probably more than that. Kristin Hannah’s story sucked me in from the beginning. It tore me to pieces, and I enjoyed every second of it.

Vianne and Isabelle are sisters, but they could not be more opposite. The story begins with a rebellious Isabelle and a cautious, comfortable Vianne living in France at the beginning of World War II. Vianne, older than her sister Isabelle, is living in Carriveau with her daughter Sophie, her husband Antoine having just gone off to war. Isabelle has just been expelled again. The Nightingale tells the tale of how these two very different sisters are affected by the horrors of war, how they deal with love, loss, and learn to survive.

In the beginning, I didn’t like Vianne at all. I felt that she was shallow and one-sided. Oh, was I wrong. Throughout the novel, I saw Vianne transfrom from a terrified French housewife into a strong woman who had to survive the only way she knew how in order to protect her family. The same goes for Isabelle, whose transformation was less drastic and more of a coming-of-age. She became a fighter in a different way, moving from frivolous pranks and running away from boarding schools to fighting for France by risking her life.

Hannah’s style of writing reminded me of The Notebook meets Sarah’s Key. Which is probably a really weird description now that I read it out loud. The story is told on multiple timelines, from multiple perspectives: that of Vianne’s and Isabelle’s during wartime, and the perspective of an elderly woman returning to Paris for the first time since the war ended, fifty years later.

The Nightingale had me addicted. I couldn’t put it down. I had to know what would happen with Vianne and Isabelle, and I was completely unprepared for the hardships they had to face. Reading their stories side by side, each fighting their own, very different battles during the war, and seeing them come together as sisters was a 5/5 for me. I don’t cry, but this book made me want to. If you want something lighthearted with a happy ending, The Nightingale isn’t quite for you. If you want to read something that will make you feel every emotion you’ve ever had with a bittersweet ending, you’ve got your book.

Rating: 5/5

“Poison Study” by Maria V. Snyder

YA Fantasy

My initpoison studyial thought when beginning Poison Study was that it was definitely going to be a hit or miss. Luckily, it was closer to a hit for me.

Although Poison Study may not be the most sophisticated book, for YA fantasy it was surprisingly good. Yelena is a teenage girl in jail for murder, something she openly admits to. Unapologetic for her actions, she has been rotting in the dungeons of Ixia for months when she’s offered the position of Food Taster for the Commander, which essentially means if anyone attempts to poison Ixia’s leader, she’ll be the one getting poisoned first. Trained by her handler Valek, Yelena must learn to defend herself and her Commander and hopes to plan an escape. However, Yelena quickly finds it will be much more difficult to survive outside the castle walls than she thought (mostly because she’s a murderer, even if she had a good reason for it). All in all, Poison Study is a book about a girl who for the first time in her life must learn not to run away, but instead to confront her past while attempting to stay alive in her present.

I personally tend to feel that YA fiction can be pretty predictable. While some of Snyder’s storyline was typical for the genre, the world-building in Poison Study provided an awesome backdrop for Yelena’s story. The kingdom of Ixia was believable and interesting, and the culture she created made Yelena’s character seem a lot more real. The characters were great. I could see Yelena change and grow throughout the book as she shed the girl she was in the dungeon and tried to figure out who she was supposed to be. Snyder threw in quite a few twists that I hadn’t seen coming and had me changing my opinion on one specific character time and time again, and didn’t leave any of the characters one-sided or forgotten.

My one and only complaint about Poison Study is the Yelena and Valek storyline, which probably makes me cynical and annoying. While the emotions felt real, that YA romance has been told time and time before.

All in all, Poison Study by Maria V. Snyder was a pleasant surprise. While I’m not sure I’m in it for the long haul through the entire series, it was a great start. (Followed by: Magic Study)

Rating: 4/5

“I don’t think I’ve read a book since grade school”

Uncategorized
…and that’s something you’re proud of?
Welcome to Required Reading, the blog where I make fun of people who refuse to read books and review a few books myself.
A little bit about me: senior in college, not graduating this year because five years is the new four, does not own matching socks, hates celery, loves popcorn, amateur blogger, long-time book reader. Great. Now that we’re acquainted, we can get to the actual point of this blog.
In my lifetime so far, I have probably read at least 500 books or more. Probably more. The summer between 8th and 9th grade, I kept a list of all the books I read. It grew to over 100. I understand that this number is totally ridiculous, and I’m sure you’re thinking, wow, this girl needs to get a life. First of all, that’s kind of rude, and second of all, ask yourself this question: when is the last time you read a book and loved it? Not one for school. Not one that your mom bought for you because she thought you needed to read it. I mean the last time you were so engrossed in a book you forgot to eat. You stayed up until 3 am. You sneakily sat in the back of the lecture hall and read instead of took notes.
That’s why I want to start this blog. So many people I know have never read a book and enjoyed it. I suggest a book to them and they say they’ll just wait until it’s turned into a movie. They say they don’t have time. News flash, I bet you’d have time if you didn’t binge watch House of Cards on Netflix! Hopefully this blog brings a few people a little more in touch with their literature loving sides and helps me become a lot more well-read. I don’t claim to be an amazing writer; I’ll tell you right now I’m not. I’m not a grammar expert, and I’m definitely not an English major. Or journalism major. Or any major that has to do with writing at all. I just feel like maybe if I write about good books, people will read them. That’s all I can really ask for.