How the Cold War Began by Amy Knight // Excellent Research Novel

Sunday, 26 February 2017 4 comments
How the Cold War Began: The Gouzenko Affair and the Hunt for Soviet Spies, by Amy Knight
Publication: November 1, 2005, by McClelland and Stewart
Genre: Non-Fiction, History
Format: Hardcover
Source: Borrowed

Just weeks after World War II had ended, a young cipher clerk named Igor Gouzenko walked out of the Soviet Embassy in Ottawa with secret papers stuffed under his shirt and headed straight for the offices of a city newspaper. His action would change the course of the twentieth century.
Gouzenko’s defection sent shockwaves through Washington, London, Moscow, and Ottawa. It was the first from a Soviet Embassy, and the smuggled documents, which suggested that agents in North America were feeding atomic secrets to Moscow, sparked a witch-hunt for spies, including not only Americans and Canadians, but a leading British nuclear scientist, Allan Nunn May.
FBI chief J. Edgar Hoover used Gouzenko’s defection to demonize the Soviets and discredit the leftists in President Harry Truman’s White House. All he had needed to push his agenda was evidence of spying, and Gouzenko delivered the goods. The FBI and the House Un-American Activities Committee used Gouzenko’s revelations to go after Alger Hiss, Harry Dexter White, and many others. And all the while, infamous MI-5 double-agent Kim Philby kept his Soviet masters apprised. The Cold War had truly begun.
In this first book to tell the Gouzenko story, Amy Knight uses newly declassified files as well as interviews with several of the key players to examine the substance of Gouzenko’s revelations and delve into his hidden motives for defecting. She explains how Gouzenko was really a pawn in a much larger game. And she brilliantly connects these events to the hardening of relations between Moscow and the West, the practice of guilt by association, and the end of the movement for international control of the atomic bomb.

My Thoughts:

I am telling you that I did not plan to read this book. I really wasn't interested in those boring American history books about subject matters that could be explained much better. BUT. (There's a but!) I needed to read this for a research essay for school about Igor Gouzenko and how he basically affected society politically and socially/culturally. This was the only book available about the Gouzenko Affair and to be honest, it wasn't too terrible. I based much of my research paper on this book and everything that Amy Knight highlighted. How the Cold War Began was an interesting novel that provided me with the just the right amount of information that I could base my paper on. I was able to learn more about the other Soviet spies who had similar jobs to Gouzenko, and I was able to also learn about how Gouzenko achieved the courage to defect and announce his role. 

This was difficult to read, and that was a major flaw for me. I ended up skimming some parts because I felt that some chapters were not relevant for my paper. This is not the ordinary kind of book I would pick up and read, so I decided that I would only bookmark the important parts. On a road trip back home from the lovely New Orleans, I picked this one up and spent my two-day journey reading it, sticky-tabbing it, you name it. I would honestly prefer to read a contemporary-romance, but it was pretty enjoyable since I chose the subject matter.

Would I recommend this? Sure. If you are an avid history reader/lover who wants to learn more about the initial moments of the Cold War and how Russia, the United States and Canada played a role, go for this. It truly is quite interesting.

How the Cold War Began was the perfect book to read for the purpose of what I was writing about at the time. I wasn't 100% interested in the writing at all times, but that's history for me (and most people).

What is an actual GOOD history novel? What subject matter should I begin with?

Le Petit Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery // This is Not a Kid's Book. This is For Everyone.

Tuesday, 21 February 2017 2 comments
Le Petit Prince, by Antoine de Saint-Exupery
Publication: April 6, 1943
Genre: Kids/YA/Adult, Fantasy
Pages: 87
Format: Paperback
Source: Borrowed

Moral allegory and spiritual autobiography, The Little Prince is the most translated book in the French language. With a timeless charm it tells the story of a little boy who leaves the safety of his own tiny planet to travel the universe, learning the vagaries of adult behaviour through a series of extraordinary encounters. His personal odyssey culminates in a voyage to Earth and further adventures.

My Thoughts:

I speak *pretty fluent* French, and I read Le Petit Prince in French for my class, but I am an incredibly lazy person who just had to write a huge French paper so... I'm just going to write this review in English for time's sake. And for your understanding's sake. Before anything, Y'ALL NEED TO LEARN THE FRENCH LANGUAGE. It's beautiful and I can imagine that the diction and language used in the French version of this exceptional novel is much better and more deep than the English version. BEFORE EVERYTHING AND ANYTHING POSSIBLE, let's get this straight: every single soul on this planet needs to head to their library, online, Kindle, local bookstore—whatever, and pick up a copy of Antoine de Saint-Exupery's The Little Prince. All of our hearts and minds depend on this kind of feel-good story that is so much more than what is literally written.

You can read The Little Prince in two ways: a literal way and a contextual way. Both of these methods of reading are just SO SO SO enjoyable. And that's the reason why this glorious 87-paged novel is studied by both children and adults. I looked at the novel both ways and it was phenomenal. Once you reach the ending you'll discover that there is more to the book than what us readers can even imagine. And then comes in the concept of adults versus children, which was explained amazingly.

This is a story that will always stay with me. I feel that the Little Prince is somewhere up in the stars, watching his readers and guiding them through life. I guess you can now tell that I have some sort of spiritual connection to him and it's true. Saint-Exupery created this story wonderfully, but I can't happen to wonder if this is a true story, if there really was a little prince. (I understand that Antoine's plane crashed during World War Two, but there must have been more to that story. This is not a hallucination).

I read this over a course of a few weeks because we spent a lot of time in class analyzing everything, doing projects and doing short quizzes to test our knowledge, which I despised. 

Le Petit Prince is unlike any classic you'll ever read. It is easy to read, though it holds a meaning that will stun you for days or even months to the point that you'll feel eager to read it all over again to discover a whole other meaning.

OMG Series Mini-Reviews: Scrooge #worstgiftever and Darcy Swipes Left

Monday, 13 February 2017 2 comments
Scrooge #worstgiftever, by Charles Dickens and Brett Wright
Publication: September 27, 2016, by Random House BFYR
Genre: Fiction, Retellings, Classics
Pages: 112
Format: Hardcover
Source: Publisher

Imagine: What if Scrooge, Marley, the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future, and the whole Cratchit family had smartphones? A classic is reborn in this clever adaptation of Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol!

One grouchy old man who can’t stop asking “How did you get this number?!”
Three ghosts who communicate in the most modern ways, including one who ONLY uses emojis!
And a status update with the most “likes” ever: God bless us, everyone!
This retelling will cure even the worst bout of Bah hummingbird! #darnyouautocorrect

A glossary and cast of characters are included for those who need it.

My Thoughts:

Brett Wright's OMG Series is absolutely a must-read. THIS DOES NOT DISAPPOINT! Scrooge #worstgiftever was the best present a girl can receive for Christmas. If you have read Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol, or even if you haven't, being entertained by this witty hilarious story is the best. It is so easy for me to understand the goal of the author and what this is leading to because of the emojis and everything. THE MOOD IS JUST JOYFUL, even though the book is focused on a character who is depressed and grumpy about the Christmas season. This definitely turned out to be my favourite #OMGClassics story.

*A review copy was provided by the publisher in exchange for a honest review. Thank you so much!*

Publication: September 27, 2016, by Random House BFYR
Genre: Fiction, Retellings, Classics
Pages: 128
Format: Hardcover
Source: Publisher
Rating: ½

Imagine: What if Lizzy Bennet and Mr. Darcy had smartphones and dated IRL (in real life)? A classic is reborn in this clever adaptation of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice!
A truth universally acknowledged: a rich guy must want a wife.
A terrible first impression.
A couple that’s meant to be . . . if they can just get over themselves. #hatersgonnadate
Don’t miss: Lydia taking selfies with soldiers, Mrs. Bennet’s humble-brag status updates, Lizzy texting from her long walks, and Darcy swiping left on a dance card app.
tl;dr Jane Austen’s most famous novel told through its characters texting with emojis, posting photos, checking in at locations, and updating their relationship statuses. The perfect gift for any teen (or any reader with a sense of humor)!
A glossary and cast of characters are included for those who need it. For example: tl;dr means too long; didn’t read.

My Thoughts:

This is the first time I can say I read a classic that an #OMGSeries book is based on. Courtney Carbone's version of Pride and Prejudice is absolutely fabulous and it lies so well with the real story that I NEED MORE. I wish there was a P&P part two so I can read about Darcy and Lizzy's children and so I can grab another addition to the #OMGSeries! I have nothing much to say about these books in general because they are all so enjoyable, but they are feel-good reads. Nothing's better than grabbing one of these, a cup of tea and a blanket by your side. ENJOY THIS.

*A review copy was provided by the publisher in exchange for a honest review. Thank you so much!*

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury // The DYSTOPIAN of Dystopia

Thursday, 9 February 2017 0 comments
Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury
Publication: October 1, 1953, by Simon and Schuster
Genre: Fiction, Classic, Dystopian
Pages: 249
Format: Paperback
Source: Borrowed
Rating: ½

Guy Montag is a fireman. His job is to destroy the most illegal of commodities, the printed book, along with the houses in which they are hidden. Montag never questions the destruction and ruin his actions produce, returning each day to his bland life and wife, Mildred, who spends all day with her television "family." But when he meets an eccentric young neighbor, Clarisse, who introduces him to a past where people didn't live in fear and to a present where one sees the world through the ideas in books instead of the mindless chatter of television, Montag begins to question everything he has ever known.
The sixtieth-anniversary edition commemorates Ray Bradbury's masterpiece with a new introduction by Neil Gaiman; personal essays on the genesis of the novel by the author; a wealth of critical essays and reviews by Nelson Algren, Harold Bloom, Margaret Atwood, and others; rare manuscript pages and sketches from Ray Bradbury's personal archive; and much more. Here, at last, is the definitive edition of a classic of world literature.

My Thoughts:

Listen friends: Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451 seriously is the DYSTOPIAN of dystopia. Of the dystopian genre specifically. This is the book that began it all, that began the sudden influx and creation of hundreds—no thousands of dystopian novels like Divergent. I'm sure that somewhere, somehow, the topic of a deteriorating world, a somewhat 'utopian' society first originated from this story. This was, in fact, the first book that I read for my junior year English class, and it was the worst out of the six we read. I feel that my twelve-year-old self would have appreciated Bradbury's writing so much more, perhaps to the extent that I would've given this a five star rating. This isn't the right kind of book for me. I truly truly TRULY appreciate the fact that there is a big focus on books and literature (YAY) though the whole concept that Bradbury tried to get at—showing how one person rebelled against his society and was influenced by someone who saw the truth, was weak. I feel that so many books rely on the same topic or theme. Fahrenheit 451 definitely is a classic novel, as it was written during the Cold War era and was basically made to show fear, specifically nuclear fear and fear in the world when things are falling apart.

The major thing that annoyed me was the fact that this was written weirdly. I appreciate beautiful writing that incorporates a lot of imagery and whatnot, though this was written awkwardly. I felt the awkwardness as I read; I wasn't intrigued and many of my classmates weren't, either. This could have been because we were basically *forced* to read this book twice. Bradbury divvied up the protagonist, Guy Montag's story into three sections, and we had to read each section twice. Once for the actual content and understanding the story, and the second time for paying attention to themes, characterization and literary devices. Yay me. I was annoyed because I feel that the imagery I *paid attention to* was not really there for a reason. Yes, I put on my special English cap and pretended that the four walls represented the isolation of society. Yeah, I could see that, but I do not believe that Ray Bradbury wrote this novel, specifically implying that the four walls represented that. It was boring and really vague. Montag's world was the same; bland and vague, though I'm pretty sure that his novel wasn't supposed to feel that way. It did, however.

I love the concept of books and book burning. Bradbury played with the whole concept of firefighters and instead of them saving people's lives from hazardous fires, in this world, they actually start the fires. You might be thinking that I'm losing my mind or something, but honestly? They set fires to get rid of any books that people have, like the Bible for example. It's complete propaganda and censorship, and this highly reflects the issues Bradbury dealt with during the time he wrote this book. When reading this, we readers are immediately put into a situation where we are more conscious of our surroundings, or at least: I was more conscious. I realized that technology is deteriorating our society and that there is much more to life than our phones, or the computer I am using to type this up. Fahrenheit 451 has such a powerful message. I think it's always going to stick with me.

I especially loved Montag's character in the novel. You see, this middle-aged man is different from the rest of his society. For the longest time, he acted as if he fit in with everything: his job (he was a firefighter) and the technology around him. After he meets his neighbour, Clarisse, who is a young teenager who actually understands the world around her and its problems, Montag is influenced by this girl's views and realizes that he has always had it wrong: the world is imperfect. It's so interesting to see how an idea can stick in all of society's minds, and how quickly one can actually be influenced by a new idea. If you rarely read dystopian fiction, then this could certainly be for you.

Fahrenheit 451 is absolutely interesting and riveting, though it lacked some uniqueness that I haven't seen in other stories. I was bored for a big chunk of it and felt that it lacked a "WOW factor." You can easily, however, fall in love with the characters, like Montag, our protagonist, Clarisse, his neighbour and the 'villains' who make us realize that technology has the capability to influence people to the extent that they do not really feel that they have an identity. It makes me scared about what our society might turn into if we do not realize what is important in life.

What are some other 'classic' dystopian novels? What is your favourite classic novel, in general?

First There Was Forever by Juliana Romano // Summer? Yes. Drama? Absolutely.

Wednesday, 8 February 2017 0 comments
First There Was Forever, by Juliana Romano
Publication: April 14, 2015, by Dial Books
Genre: Young Adult Fiction, Contemporary, Romance
Pages: 400
Format: Hardcover
Source: Purchased
Rating: ½

Juliana Romano's expressive debut is an absorbing and bittersweet story about first love, first loss, and the friends that carry us through it all.
Lima and Hailey have always been best friends: Lima shy and sensitive, Hailey funny and free-spirited. But Hailey abandons Lima to party with the popular kids and pursue Nate, her disinterested crush. As their friendship falters, Lima and Nate begin spending more time together. And before Lima knows what she’s feeling, she and Nate do something irreversible. Something that would hurt Hailey....if she knew it happened.
Lima thinks she’s saving her friendship by lying, but she’s only buying time. As the secrets stack up, Lima is forced to make a choice: between her best friend forever, and the boy who wasn’t meant to be hers.

My Thoughts:

CALIFORNIA LOVEEEEE. *plays the song by Tupac* That's a song that immediately pops into my head when I think about Juliana Romano's First There Was Forever. I cannot really think about the direct lyrics, though Romano's debut does take place in California, the land of dreams, Beverly Hills, drama and daily doses of sunshine. I don't think anything gets better than California. When I read this book, I just came home from California, so I was enduring some kind of post-trip depression where all I wanted to do was hop on a plane again and travel to the place where I am happy. (Not that I'm not happy anywhere else but... it's a happy land). First There Was Forever was raw and so meaningful. 

The important detail to note here is that it, the novel, displays the realism of teenagers and their mentalities to an interesting extent. And by an interesting extent, I mean an over-exaggerated extent. I'm a teenager living in the twenty-first century, and I can tell you that the only reason why I did not give this book a perfect rating was because I was disappointed with the fact that the characters in the book were showcased as people who only cared about boys and partying, and of course, a little bit of friendship drama here and there. It's kind of wrong, and I felt all iffy about the whole situation. I definitely felt that it was real, but I cannot personally relate to any of the characters and situation because it's all just out of my realm.

This does, however, portray friendship and the problems of being a teenager. Our protagonist, Lima, undergoes the time of her life where she realizes that she needs to change her way of thinking and friend group. I can personally relate to that, and I bet many other teens can, too, because there's always that period of our lives where we feel that we just don't belong somewhere. And when we find that special group of people who we slide in with, it all works out. Lima was a protagonist who was so energetic and special; she was shy to the others, though reading about her life from her eyes made the book even better. Seeing that she was slowly climbing out of her shell to become more confident in her shoes was remarkable. I LOVED SEEING THIS DEVELOPMENT.

This isn't your typical girl-falling-in-love-with-her-BFF's-crush novel. It's more than that. It's something you can fall in love with very quickly and feel unable to let go. It's 400 pages of awesomeness and a rich plot that you won't be able to forget about for ages. I especially loved the whole story because it's summery and fluffy; it also incorporates themes that take you to a deep level of consciousness, if that is even possible. It's just deep, beautiful and full of drama to the point that I felt the fast pace in me as I read. It's been a looooong time since I read a book this quickly. 

In a quick sentence: I adored Lima and Nate and despised Hailey with all of my might. She was your typical mean girl who you just wanted to depart the plot. 

First There Was Forever has been sitting in my shelf for months, perhaps even a year before I decided, "Hey! This might be the perfect time to pick it up!" This is the kind of book that was not written solely for teenagers; anyone is able to find something here that they will enjoy. I am SO SO SO eager to pick up Romano's Summer in the City and see what her setting of NYC has in store for her characters. I'm lost for words; this is phenomenal.

What is a book that at first, seemed typical, but was better and more unique than everyone first expected?

Don't You Cry by Mary Kubica // My First Kubica Book Equals Awesomeness

Tuesday, 7 February 2017 4 comments
Don't You Cry, by Mary Kubica
Publication: May 17, 2016, by MIRA
Genre: Adult Fiction, Mystery, Thriller
Pages: 320
Format: ARC
Source: BEA/Publisher

In downtown Chicago, a young woman named Esther Vaughan disappears from her apartment without a trace. A haunting letter addressed to My Dearest is found among her possessions, leaving her friend and roommate Quinn Collins to wonder where Esther is and whether or not she's the person Quinn thought she knew.
Meanwhile, in a small Michigan harbor town an hour outside Chicago, a mysterious woman appears in the quiet coffee shop where eighteen-year-old Alex Gallo works as a dishwasher. He is immediately drawn to her charm and beauty, but what starts as an innocent crush quickly spirals into something far more dark and sinister than he ever expected.
As Quinn searches for answers about Esther, and Alex is drawn further under Pearl's spell, master of suspense Mary Kubica takes readers on a taut and twisted thrill ride that builds to a stunning conclusion and shows that no matter how fast and far we run, the past always catches up with us in the end.

My Thoughts:

I am the biggest psychological mystery/thriller fan on this planet. I have been recommended Mary Kubica's books time after time because they are just my kind of book. There is always suspense, always something that a reader doesn't know until the end of the story. Don't You Cry was the uttermost perfect suspense story. I mean—it wasn't perfect, but Kubica added suspense so perfectly that it was my favourite part of the story. This book is so complex that your head will hurt for a few hours after reading. You won't be able to forget anything that happens in this book for ages afterwards. I only recently noticed that my memory concerning the plot of Kubica's 2016 release was a little foggy. But who cares? If you forget, some voice inside of you will be begging you to re-pick this up again and enjoy Quinn and Esther's story that takes readers on an 'adventure' all over the Midwest to find out where Esther went.

I love books that are about missing people. Not that I would ever wish something like this to happen to someone, but I love the concept and length of these stories. I love how authors create many characters who end up falling into the web of suspense. I love how some authors, like Kubica, create characters who do not rely on the police for a search for the missing person. It shows that these stories are so complex that even your average person wouldn't be able to solve them. I am not a huge mystery fan, but when characters/concepts like these are introduced, I'M IN. Don't You Cry was a book that made me feel so emotional and confused with the world. Kubica added so much vagueness in the plot (in a good way) that I became so perplexed and weirded out, just like the weirdness of the story.

It's interesting how we readers were able to get to know Esther more, even though she was missing for the whole story. We also read the perspectives of Quinn, her roommate, and Alex, a guy who works in a coffee shop in Michigan, a few hours away from Chicago. You would think that these people have nothing to do with each other, but BOY THEY DO. And it's totally unexpected. It's not what you're probably thinking at the moment: "that dude Alex must be the kidnapper! But wait, he's too young!" The second part of that sentence could be true, however. *giggles* I WAS SO SHOCKED WITH THE ENDING AND THE PLOT AND THE CHARACTERS' REACTIONS TO EVERYTHING AND... well you could say I was shocked with the whole book. I did never ever expect the story to end the way it did. I guess it's fate for me to enjoy Kubica's writing now, as I was just so impressed.

The only reason why I wouldn't give this impressive story a 5 star rating was because I WAS SO CONFUSED. I guess the ending really is meant for us readers to interpret. You can make it whatever you want! 😋

Don't You Cry is just absolutely incredible. Once I began reading, the world around me changed (literally) and I was unable to fall asleep at night because I kept feeling that Esther's story was haunting me. This is a psychological thriller for everyone.

*A review copy was provided by the publisher in exchange for a honest review. Thank you so much!*

Do you enjoy Mary Kubica's writing? What is your favourite suspense novel?