Life After Life by Kate Atkinson

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Life After Life by Kate Atkinson
Genre: Historical fiction, magical realism
4 stars.

On a snowy winter day in 1910, Ursula is born and dies before she can take her first breath. What follows is a tale of life after life, as Ursula gets chances to live again and again and again, taking radically different paths with each choice as history marches before her and carries her story in its wake.

Well written and engaging, I thoroughly enjoyed Atkinson’s look into the way our choices can change the course of our lives. Atkinson weaves mysteries throughout the book, some of which are answered by later story lines, some that are only hinted at, some that are never answered at all. We watch as Ursula navigates and renavigates decisive moments in her life, waiting as she dodges a mistake she made in a previous life. The characters in Ursula’s life are fleshed out through glimpses of their stories, and I found myself caring about the directions their lives took. I also enjoyed Atkinson’s visceral look into the poignant history of early 20th century Britain–exploring the intense toll both World Wars had on a population.

I found Ursula difficult to relate to, however, and her overall personality to be a bit grating and difficult to understand. I cared a lot more for her mother and her sister than I did for her. I felt that she was a character to be projected upon rather than possessing a distinct personality of her own.

I also felt like there was no real ending to the book. Ursula lives so many lives which go in a number of fascinating directions, but the story just seemed to stop, suddenly and with no real conclusion. Was Ursula’s final life supposed to be her best life? Had she finally reached her full potential as a human being and so she stopped being reborn?

Despite those questions, I highly enjoyed Atkinson’s book, the way she wove history through the story, and left her audience rooting for Ursula and the choices she makes in life.

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The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah

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The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah
Genre: Historical fiction
4.5 stars.

I have read countless WWII novels, but few have haunted me for so many months after I finished it than The Nightingale. This is a tale of the strength of women in wartime, highlighting the ways bravery can take on many different faces. Continue reading

Ship of Brides by Jojo Moyes

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Ship of Brides by Jojo Moyes
Genre: Historical fiction
3 stars.

This was such a frustrating mess of positives and negatives that it was difficult to decide between 2.5 and three stars. I eventually went with three stars because, despite all its issues, Ship of Brides was still an enjoyable read. Continue reading

Testament of Youth by Vera Brittain

1e2c4508370052185680cb9315d09ba4Genre: Memoir, WWI, Literary
5 stars.

Testament of Youth is one of the most heart-wrenching, haunting, and beautifully written memoirs of WWI, and I cannot adequately describe how much this book has impacted me. Vera Brittain captures the naivete of 1914 British youth who grew up in sheltered Victorian society, and the following disillusionment, betrayal, and attempt to make sense of a world shattered by war, chaos, and death. Brittain draws not only on memory, but also relies on poetry and excepts from her diaries and letters during that time to make sense of what she experienced–the loss of all the young men she cares for, her service as a V.A.D nurse in Italy and France, and finally her return to Oxford and picking up the pieces of her life. I highly recommend this book, and I leave you with this poem written by Brittain’s fiance Roland Leighton from the trenches in 1915: Continue reading