A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith

One Sentence Review: “Having an accent means you belong somewhere.” 


Pages: 528  Genre: Historical Fiction / Coming of Age / Classic 
Rating: 5 of 5 dolls named Mary
Average Goodreads Rating: 4.23 of 5 stars
Form Read: ebook   Purchased or Borrowed: Borrowed from the library 

Synopsis from Goodreads: The beloved American classic about a young girl’s coming-of-age at the turn of the century, Betty Smith’s A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is a poignant and moving tale filled with compassion and cruelty, laughter and heartache, crowded with life and people and incident. The story of young, sensitive, and idealistic Francie Nolan and her bittersweet formative years in the slums of Williamsburg has enchanted and inspired millions of readers for more than sixty years. By turns overwhelming, sublime, heartbreaking, and uplifting, the daily experiences of the unforgettable Nolans are raw with honesty and tenderly threaded with family connectedness — in a work of literary art that brilliantly captures a unique time and place as well as incredibly rich moments of universal experience.


This book is one of the editions printed by the US Government during World War II as a pocketbook for soldiers to carry with them. It went through multiple printings during the course of the war, and prior to the author’s death, she still received letters from veterans describing what the book meant to them and how it helped them in a time of need. The importance of this book to the war effort is outlined in “When Books Went To War: the stories that helped us win WWII.”

The main theme of the book is one of self and family betterment. It’s improvement over generations, a little at a time. It’s also a book on poverty, growing up, and the little things we take for granted. It’s addiction and how the disease pulls you under.

“A person who pulls himself up from a low environment via the bootstrap route has two choices. Having risen above his environment, he can forget it; or, he can rise above it and never forget it and keep compassion and understanding in his heart for those he has left behind him in the cruel upclimb.” 


The book is well written and told from the perspective of a young girl growing up poor in Brooklyn. I’d believe the author had first hand experience with poverty, judging from how well she writes it. Coming from one of the poorest parts of the country, I hate the way people often portray the poor but Smith does an excellent job showing how as a child you’re ignorant of the fact of being a “have not” until you meet people who are “haves.”

Smith also does an excellent job showing the way communities like that band together but also how they shame members of their group because the idea of “looking down on” is something they rarely get to do, so if someone breaks the strict social rules for that group they are punished.


This book is one of those you read multiple times during your life, and each time you’ll have a different reading experience. The characters are well developed and as you gain more life experience you’ll relate to each of them in a slightly different way. I saw a lot of my younger self in the main character Francie. A hunger for knowledge and to make it out of where you’re from, but the desire never to lose those roots or feel ashamed of them.

“… the world was hers for the reading. She would never be lonely again, never miss the lack of intimate friends. Books became her friends and there was one for every mood.” 

The impact of addiction on an individual and the family as a whole is also a major plot point throughout the book. The main character’s father is an alcoholic and you see how it changes him and how his family deals with his disease.

“People always think that happiness is a faraway thing,” thought Francie, “something complicated and hard to get. Yet, what little things can make it up; a place of shelter when it rains–a cup of strong coffee when you’re blue; for a man, a cigarette for contentment; a book to read when you’re alone–just to be with someone you love. Those things make happiness.”

Though I originally borrowed this book, I plan on purchasing the ebook so I can read it again in a few years, and see how I have changed reflected in the book.

Find this book on: Goodreads / Amazon / B&N 

A Gathering of Shadows (Shades of Magic #2): Review

One sentence review: The triwizard tournament, now with 75% more Londons! 

This is one of the more anticipated fantasy books of this year, as it is the sequel to the highly popular “Darker Shades of Magic” by V.E. Schwab. The first book of the series made my top reads of 2015, due mainly to the inventive “multiple London” world she created.

gatheringshadowsPages: 512  Genre: Fantasy / Magic / Historical Fiction 
Rating: 4 of 5 Red Star Coins
Average Goodreads Rating: 4.52 of 5 stars
Form Read: kindle ebook   Purchased: Yes

Synopsis from Amazon: Four months have passed since the shadow stone fell into Kell’s possession. Four months since his path crossed with Delilah Bard. Four months since Rhy was wounded and the Dane twins fell, and the stone was cast with Holland’s dying body through the rift, and into Black London.

In many ways, things have almost returned to normal, though Rhy is more sober, and Kell is now plagued by his guilt. Restless, and having given up smuggling, Kell is visited by dreams of ominous magical events, waking only to think of Lila, who disappeared from the docks like she always meant to do. As Red London finalizes preparations for the Element Games-an extravagant international competition of magic, meant to entertain and keep healthy the ties between neighboring countries-a certain pirate ship draws closer, carrying old friends back into port.

But while Red London is caught up in the pageantry and thrills of the Games, another London is coming back to life, and those who were thought to be forever gone have returned. After all, a shadow that was gone in the night reappears in the morning, and so it seems Black London has risen again-and so to keep magic’s balance, another London must fall…in V.E. Schwab’s A Gathering of Shadows.


This book takes place only a few months after the major changes that end the first book in the series. We get to see more of the world of Red London and also get to hear how the different regions of Red London interact with one another. This was my favorite part of “Darker Shade” and I was very glad she expanded so much on this point in this book.

We spend a lot more time with Lila, who is unfortunately one of my least favorite characters, but you do get a little more insight into how she became the way she is, which gives her a little more of a pass for her more annoying character traits.

The relationship between Kell and the royal family is also something that is explored more thoroughly, as is the perception of the people of living with someone who could be either viewed as gifted or cursed for having near unlimited magical ability. The different kinds of magical gifts and the frequency they occur is expanded on, which was anther of the more interesting points in this book.

The main focus in the synopsis is the magic tournament, and while this is a constant background event, it really isn’t fleshed out in the actual text. Other than a couple of key moments, you just hear the results of the main characters and don’t really see a detailed view of how different gifts are actually used in a combat situation.

Gathering Shadows definitely had middle book problems, as this is going to be a trilogy, and the cliffhanger at the end was a little infuriating but also expected. I was very excited that this book is more than 100 pages longer than the previous book, but was disappointed in how those pages were spent. I expect a lot of setup for the next book, and love the world building enough that I’ll still pick that one up the moment it is released.

Would I recommend: yes, but with the understanding it’s a middle book.

Find the book: Goodreads / Amazon / Barnes & Noble