I'm a sucker for dual timeline novels! This format has become one of my favorites and, when done right, can immerse me even deeper into the lives and situations presented and, in doing so, make me care for the characters more than I might have expected. Some of my favorite novels are told in this style and I can't get enough of how the separate timelines twist together and reveal secrets about the other. So probably needless to say I was really excited to start reading Secrets of Nanreath Hall. It promised to include so many of the things I love in historical fiction: the dual timelines, both set during the World Wars (which I love reading about), secrets hidden that promise to be revealed, the grit and grime of battle against the fading yet still real glamour and aloofness of a stately English home. So much to love! I'm happy to say that Nanreath Hall lived up to its promises and completely drew me in from the very first page.
Now, whenever I read a dual timeline novel I always seem to enjoy one of the timelines more than the other. The same is true in this case, with me enjoying Anna's story more than Katherine's. This is for a number of reasons, mainly because I absolutely just loved Anna's character and I felt the author spent more time developing her against the backdrop of WWII then Katherine and her timeline. Anna is an amazing character, being determined and strong yet vulnerable and damaged all at the same time, presenting as a multifaceted person I could easily envision and appreciate for the struggles she endured. Anna's timeline also spent more time showing the effects of war - from her cousin, Hugh, losing his leg and trying to come to terms with his disfigurement to Anna's PTSD and struggle to shut off the horrors she's seen so she can just cope day to day to everyone's continued worry and fear that bombs could (and did!) drop down on their heads at any moment - and I for one couldn't get enough of all of these aspects as well as the detail spent on Nanreath Hall as both a hospital and a stately home. The descriptions drew me in and I was easily transported to see, hear, smell, and feel all that these characters did.
This isn't to say that I didn't enjoy Katherine's story, I did. I liked Katharine as a character, she having many of the same attributes I appreciated in Anna, except when it came to one thing: Simon Halliday. The fact that she gave up everything - and I mean everything! - for him without even much of a backward glance just felt strange to me. I could appreciate her wanting to become a painter and have freedom beyond what she would have as the daughter of an Earl, but giving it all up for that combined with this young man who I found to be a total cad just didn't sit well with me. Those who enjoy romance-and-passion-above-all-else sorts of stories with probably love her storyline, but I've never really enjoyed that sort of thing so couldn't love her as much as I loved Anna or what she went through. There wasn't as much attention placed on what was happening during the war Katherine lived through either (WWI), which is part of what I enjoyed so much in the other timeline.
All this being said, I think what I enjoyed the very most is the over-arching theme that family isn't necessarily who you share blood with but who you keep in your heart, and those that keep you in there's. This presents itself at a few different points in the book, and these points really stuck out for me. I also enjoyed the fact that, while many of the "secrets of Nanreath Hall" were somewhat easy to see coming given the hints dropped throughout the story, one secret in particular (namely what ultimately came between Katherine and Simon) actually surprised me and I always enjoy being taken by surprise.
I recommend Secrets of Nanreath Hall to anyone who loves historical fiction, especially that which takes place during the World Wars. There's much to enjoy here, and I'll be thinking about a number of these characters and how their stories might have proceeded after the last page was turned for awhile.
I’ve read a few of Santa Montefiore’s novels and have always find them enjoyable. She has a wonderful way ofFind my full review at luxuryreading.com.
I’ve read a few of Santa Montefiore’s novels and have always find them enjoyable. She has a wonderful way of transporting the reader to beautiful locations with a florid and alluring writing style that gets me every time. The stories are lighter reading with just enough drama and romance to keep the reader satisfied without pushing too far over into melodrama. In other words: perfect beach reading. After reading the synopsis of The Beekeeper’s Daughter I was excited to see how she tackled this story with the style I’ve come to enjoy. Did I find it a success? Well, yes and no.
The first two-thirds or so of the story goes back and forth between England in the 1930’s and 40’s and an island off the coast of Massachusetts in 1973. The earlier timeline deals with Grace Hamblin and her unquenchable love for the heir of her village’s local gentry. The later timeline mainly revolves around Grace’s daughter, Trixie, and her own love for a man she can’t have, as well as Grace’s continued strained relationship with her husband, Freddie. My biggest issue with these characters was that I didn’t particularly like them or understand most of the choices they made. I found Trixie to be especially selfish, at least in the beginning, and found her and Grace’s complete obsessions with men they barely knew – obsessions that last for decades! – to be unrealistic. They both make some very poor choices and, while it all seems to wrap up pretty neatly in the end (a little too neatly in my opinion), I was still left shaking my head at their actions. One character that I didn’t initially enjoy, Grace’s husband Freddie, did grow on me quite a lot, which made some of Grace’s more selfish choices that much worse to me. All of this could be exacerbated by the fact that I’m not a huge fan of heavy romance in novels in general. Those who do enjoy romance more might find this book more enjoyable but I need more balance with other elements to make the story really draw me in.
The final third of the story jumps ahead to Trixie in 1990 as she tries to learn the true story behind her parents’ early lives in England – something neither of them talk about – which did much to tie up loose ends and fill in the gaps the other two timelines left hanging, but it felt like a somewhat odd way to advance the story. I think I would have preferred more development of some of the historical aspects the characters went through, such as both Freddie and Grace’s experiences during WWII, and less time on Trixie learning those experiences second hand from others. This would present its own problems of course, especially with how Trixie’s story ends, but being the big history fan I am I was just hoping for more meat to the story and less dramatic romance.
I hope that all this doesn’t imply that I hated the story, because I did enjoy it. Ms. Montefiore does have a beautiful writing style that perfectly whisks the reader to the locations she sets her stories in. I absolutely loved the descriptions of the English gardens and the windswept island the characters inhabited. I also enjoyed many of the secondary characters that weren’t given a lot of backstory but still made me want to read more about them. I think, for me, The Beekeeper’s Daughter just tipped a little too much over to the melodramatic romance side of things, keeping me from liking this one as much as the previous few I’ve read. I’m still a fan and will read more of Ms. Montefiore’s novels, I’ll just try to look more carefully for the ones a little lighter on the romance and a little heavier on the character and plot development. ...more
I Let You Go starts with a horrible accident - a young boy dying on a rainy street after being hit by a car - and then alternates chapters with Jenna Gray trying to recover from this horrible event and Detective Inspector Ray Stevens and his team trying to solve the mystery of who was driving the car and why they didn't stop to help the boy or come forward after the crash. After the initial shocking accident I have to admit that I began to wonder where all the "thrill" and "suspense" was hiding as it started shaping up into quite the sedate story of a mother trying to rebuild her life and an Inspector trying to keep his own family, as well as his growing affection for a colleague, in check. Then - BAM! - out of nowhere a twist is revealed, one that made me realize I had been reading the story all wrong and had been completely tricked! This doesn't happen too often in novels so I always get a little thrill when it does. The last time I can remember feeling this thrown by a twist was in Gone Girl, so the comparisons to that novel, in this case, seem appropriate.
Beyond this big twist, I really enjoyed the in-depth behind the scenes look at police procedures and the bureaucracy behind them. I've never been much for TV police procedurals but I enjoyed this written peek and it made me really appreciate the minute attention to details needed as well as the slow moving speed of following up on those details involved. With all the red tape involved against the flash-quick nature of violence it's amazing any crime can be solved with enough time to save anyone (just a little hint of what you'll find after the "big twist").
All in all, I found I Let You Go to be an exciting read once the action picks up about half way through. I was much more interested in Jenna's story and the shocking twists involved with it then the family drama associated with Inspector Stevens. Still, I think it was a great mystery full of surprises and is perfect for those that crave shocking revelations....more
I've never been a huge fan of Young Adult novels, but when this Kindle/Audiobook combo went on sale I thought it sounded like an interesting enough audiobook to give a go on my commute to work. I've become quite a sucker for a good mystery, and the promise of finding out what really happened to Evie and what these characters could possibly be hiding was a huge draw. I'm glad to say the story provided me with hours of entertainment, as well as an interesting coming-of-age tale that I wasn't quite expecting.
I think the "big mystery" surrounding what really happened to Evie and the effects her disappearance has on everyone around her - especially Lizzie - and it's aftermath was well done if somewhat underwhelming from what I was expecting. It kept me listening as I was pretty sure what was unfolding was not the whole truth. Lizzie herself was such an interesting character, not only because the story is told from her point of view but because her growth outshines everything else for me, including Evie. This girl, who's in that awkward point in life when you're not really a girl but not yet a woman, thinks she knows so much about life but really knows so little and ends up making some horrific choices that change everything, all in the name of doing what she thinks is right for her best friend. I found it so sad to see Lizzie's magical illusions about her friend and her friend's family fall apart once she discovers the truth. Her innocence seems to disappear before the reader's eyes, and as everyone knows you can't un-know what you learn. This end of innocence ends up happening for more characters than just Lizzie, but it's Lizzie's struggle in growing up and facing the truths before her that I really enjoyed.
The other big aspect that I enjoyed was the narrator herself. For me, a huge part of really enjoying an audiobook is the voice and talent of the narrator (or narrators if you're lucky enough to get more than one). The narrator of The End of Everything was phenomenal (Emily Bauer), having the perfect voice to represent a girl in her early teens. Beyond her ability to make me believe she was this young girl, she did an excellent job of keeping up a constant urgency and tension in her voice, making me feel like the strain and uncertainty always in the background of the story was going to burst open at any minute.
At the end of the day, I found The End of Everything to be more of a coming of age story than a solid mystery. I did enjoy that we actually find out what happened to Evie, however it seemed somewhat anticlimactic compared to what I was expecting from the description. However I still found it quite enjoyable and I was impressed enough with the writing style of the author to have added more of her books to my wish list. ...more
I've read a couple novels by Jojo Moyes (The Girl You Left Behind and Me Before You) and really enjoy her ability to whisk me away to either the past or the present with humor and heart, all while making me care for her characters and the ups and downs they experience. With Windfallen, I felt like I got the best of both worlds: a look into the past as Lottie Swift tackles the obstacles before her shortly after WWII as well as a present storyline showing Daisy Parsons tackling her own set of issues. What I wasn't expecting was the similarities between these two women and how their lives would become intertwined.
Unlike most novels I've read that deal with dual timelines, the first half of Windfallen deals exclusively with Lottie's coming-of-age story as she decides to stay in Merham after being sent to the country and out of London during the WWII bombings on the city. I quickly came to like Lottie as she navigated the uppity family she lived with that never quite accepted her as their own. I ached with her as she fell in love with someone not meant for her (as well as felt for the boy who clearly loves her and which she doesn't feel the same for). She's a kind, forthright and sympathetic young character and I'm very glad I already liked her by the time we see her in what I think of as "Daisy's half" of the story as she becomes quite the crotchety and overly opinionated older woman. This is somewhat understandable given her life experiences, but still.
I wasn't as big a fan of Daisy's story but I did appreciate how she grew as a character during her time remodeling Arcadia House. We get to see her go from a battered and broken single mom into a strong woman able to face anyone - whether that be a brash boss, busybody townfolk, selfish ex-lover, or pushy babysitter - with confidence and determination. I also liked how she ended up influencing and helping Lottie as much as Lottie helped her. They both had so much in common, even given the very different circumstances they experienced, and it was interesting to see how both their stories would twist together and apart and ultimately resolve.
As I always do with audiobooks, I should mention that I enjoyed the narrator (Michelle Ford) and thought she did a good job of differentiating the characters. She did an excellent job of effectively expressing the humor in the story as well, and was able to shift between warring emotions clearly and with a good bit of impact for the listener.
Jojo Moyes has such a unique way of telling a story that I'm pretty much a fan for life. While Windfallen isn't my favorite of her novels I've read (that designation still goes to The Girl You Left Behind) it is still a great story full of heart, humor, and emotion.
The Girl in the Castle is everything I love about historical fiction! While only tackling about 15 years, it has the epic feel often found in family sagas spanning much longer periods of time and fills in an interesting time and place in history with characters who are fighting, loving, and living during it all. I've enjoyed Santa Montefiore's books in the past but this newest novel surpasses them all, in my opinion. in both character and plot development.
One of the key ways this book surpasses the author's previous books for me is the wonderful detail and depth given to so many fascinating characters. All of Santa Montefiore's books are incredible in descriptive details and completely whisk the reader away to windswept shores or green fields, but I've gone back and forth (depending on the story) with a lack of appreciation for her characters and the drama and experiences surrounding them...they just sometimes fell flat. In this novel, however, each of the characters, whether prominent or not (and there are a lot of characters throughout), are all well developed and formed and perfectly served their purpose whether that was to be a hated, loved, or somewhere in between. They are complicated and diverse and even when they made poor choices or hurt other people I appreciated each one for their role in progressing the story. Bridie, Kitty, and Kitty's grandmother, Adeline, are particular favorites and I delighted in going along on all the ups and downs (and there are some extreme downs!) they experienced.
As I mentioned above, I've enjoyed the descriptions and plot development in all of the novels I've read by this author, but I particularly enjoyed this story as it took place against a background I had not read much about before. Taking place before, during, and after the Irish War of Independence I was fascinated to learn about the circumstances of the war and the biting strategies employed by both the Irish and the English during this fight. I loved the fact that the characters actually participated in this drama as well as discussing it and that it was all brought completely to life with the beautiful descriptions of the verdant land the Irish were fighting for.
The structure of the story is wonderful as well, starting in 1925 with two boys playing in the rubble of Castle Deverill as they spy a woman coming to lay claim to the property, then going back to 1910 and progressing until we arrive back to the boys and discover who has returned. The meat in the middle is delicious as it moves from the coming-of-age story of friendship between Kitty, Bridie, and Jack through love and loss and second chances. The epilogue, which leaves this story to continue in the next installment on a shocking realization, ended it perfectly for me and really makes me anxious for the next book to come out (which looks to be coming out in the US in April 2017). I love twist or cliffhanger endings to keep me excited while I wait!
Finally, I can't end my review without mentioning my absolute favorite aspect of the novel: the ghosts! A key characteristic of both Kitty and her grandmother are their abilities to see and interact with the family ghosts inhabiting Castle Deverill as well as the curse that hangs over the family that each male in line to inherit will be forced to spend his afterlife trapped at the castle. Their interactions with these ghosts were funny, touching, and even a bit unnerving at times and I'm really hoping the next installments deal with this topic as well.
The Girl in the Castle has become my favorite of Santa Montefiore's novels. I can't really find fault in it, other than possibly that it could have been a little shorter, and I would definitely recommend this to anyone who likes historical fiction that incorporates drama, passion, and a host of characters searching for their place in a world not fully of their making.
The Golden Age of Hollywood has always held a unique fascination for me, with so much glamour and mysteryFind my full review at www.luxuryreading.com.
The Golden Age of Hollywood has always held a unique fascination for me, with so much glamour and mystery surrounding the lives of the various players that just begs to be explored. Given this I had a vague idea of who Marlene Dietrich was even if I didn’t know much about her personal life. After reading and enjoying a number of books by author C.W. Gortner I did know, however, that I was in for a treat and was bound to learn a great deal in the process. What I didn’t expect was to discover such a rare and remarkable woman that is truly beyond compare.
Divided up into “scenes” or blocks of years of Marlene’s life, the reader learns her story through her own words, feelings, and actions in a manner as vibrant as if the reader was experiencing it along with her. Starting in her childhood during WWI and progressing through WWII, the reader gets a true sense of who this woman was (a determined tiger of a woman with a surprisingly big heart) and who she definitely wasn’t (someone who would sell her morals or friends for anything, even more money or celebrity status). Growing up in Germany and raised by a rigid and rule-governing mother, Marlene nevertheless broke every rule and regulation placed before her to blaze her own path into the limelight. She loved and lusted with abandon and the wild. The changeable world of Germany after WWI was the perfect backdrop for Marlene to be able to spread her wings and discover her immense talent as an entertainer.
While Marlene’s early life is fascinating, my favorites parts of the novel deal with her many years in Hollywood and her surprising (for me) turn as a USO entertainer on the front lines of WWII. There is an endless list of supporting players from the crème de la crème of Hollywood and it was an eye opener to see how many of these people entered her life – and her bed – during her lifetime. While there were aspects of Marlene at this time that were selfish, (leaving her daughter in Berlin while she started her career and then, when she was more established, making her daughter move to America even though she didn’t want to go) she also gave so much to friends and family in need, from paying all of her husband’s bills to sheltering friends who were escaping the terrors in Europe. Beyond all of that, she put her own life on the line as a USO entertainer, going to the boys that needed her special brand of entertaining most even if that meant performing next to a ditch and suffering through lice and dysentery. She did everything in her power to stay in the USO for as long as possible and had to literally be dragged away to a hospital for an infection in her jaw and severe dehydration. I have never heard of a celebrity doing something like this before, and I am now a lifelong fan of this incredible woman.
Now, being the huge history buff I am, it was also a pleasant surprise for the author to incorporate so much of the politics and gritty history happening in the greater world around the actress during this time. It truly is a singular time and place she lived in and C.W. Gortner is at his best when immersing the reader in history. His descriptions of the devastation brought about by the war and the aftermath witnessed through Marlene’s eyes are so vivid that you get a great sense of just how unbelievable it would have been, especially for this particular woman, now an American citizen returning to the home of her birth and seeing the horrors her countryman had unleashed on the world.
Marlene is an exceptional story about an unbelievable woman. She lived through two World Wars and experienced life at its highest and lowest points. If you like history or Hollywood you definitely want to read this story....more
I've always found the Kennedys to be a fascinating family, especially JFK and his wife, Jackie. I've seen a few movies about them, know the basics about Joe and Rose Kennedy and their famous political sons, but I had never heard of Rosemary Kennedy before (or, at least, I don't remember ever hearing of her). When I saw Rosemary: The Hidden Kennedy Daughter come up for sale as a Kindle/Audible audiobook combo I knew I wanted to learn more. I'm so glad I purchased it because this story completely expanded my view of the Kennedys as a whole (not always in a good way) and introduced me to this remarkable member, one that's life was infinitely tragic.
This really is more than just the story of Rosemary. While she stays center to the story the author does a really good job of giving a solid background on her parents - Joe and Rose Kennedy - as well as each sibling. If for no other reason I think including this information was an excellent choice as detailing the various Kennedys' ambitions, skills, competitiveness, and drives went a huge way towards highlighting Rosemary's limits and the frustrations and disappointments she would have naturally felt growing up under the Kennedy regime. While I know this was a different time and place, it was upsetting to hear how Rosemary was pushed to achieve more than she was mentally capable of and how she was shuttled around and kept hidden often when she didn't live up to her parents' expectations. As a mother I cannot imagine sending my child off over and over again to let other people take care of her while I go on a myriad of vacations and concentrate on my more capable children. It's just appalling to me!
I honestly had to stop listening for a while when I got to the part about the lobotomy. I could not believe that her father agreed to such a drastic, invasive measure to "fix" his (in his eyes) imperfect daughter instead of just accepting her with her limitations and letting her know that she was just fine the way she was (which, in my opinion, might have helped with the increased tantrums she had as she tried to keep up with the demands of her family). Top that off with the fact that she was then placed in an institution far from her family for decades so that no one knew how catastrophic a mistake they had made is just unimaginable to me. This biography left me with a bitter dislike for Joe and Rose Kennedy and for the lengths they went to for their own ambitions for their family.
What I enjoyed most about this book is the detail given to discussing how mental deficiencies and delays were viewed and dealt with in general during the early to mid 1900s and how those views shifted and changed with further study, exposure, and treatment, much of which was advanced by the Kennedy's philanthropic foundations and Eunice Kennedy's work and efforts in particular. So, in the end, whether from love, guilt, or whatever other motives might have fueled them, their experiences with Rosemary and her many trials ended up doing so much for other people like her. I also became a huge fan of Eunice Kennedy (someone else I wasn't overly familiar with) due to the fact that she was really the only one who took the time to spend quality time with Rosemary and wasn't as afraid as the others to speak about her disabled sister.
Rosemary: The Hidden Kennedy is a wonderful look into the Kennedy family as a whole and this intriguing and tragic member in particular. I'm not sure if what is discussed within its pages are already well known facts to those that have studied the Kennedys but I learned quite a bit and now want to read even further about the family. I can't help thinking how much happier Rosemary's life might have been if she was born into a less ambitious family or a different time. The author (and narrator!) did an excellent job of making me feel for Rosemary and, for me, that is the mark of a great nonfiction book. ...more
I became a lifelong fan of Sarah Pekkanen after reading her first novel, The Opposite of Me, and have since gotten every book she's written when it comes out. Any fan will tell you that Sarah has an astounding ability to really make you feel for her characters, and to present stories filled with both humor and heartache in a style all her own. I haven't read a story by her yet that I didn't love, including her newest The Perfect Neighbors.
The overriding feeling I kept going back to as I read The Perfect Neighbors was the fact that these women and their neighbors felt more real than a lot of my own neighbors do! I could completely picture myself grabbing a drink with Kellie, Susan, Gigi, and Tessa as we talked about what was going on in our lives (or most of it) and laughed at the curmudgeonly old neighbor to one side and the gossipy busybody to the other. It got to the point that I found myself wanting to reach in and shake them when I saw them going down a dangerous path or hug them when they hurt. I absolutely loved these women and was able to find something of myself, even if just a little, in each one and the struggles they individually tried to work through.
I'm still not sure how Sarah Pekkanen does it, but she took me once again on an emotional rollercoaster that had me laughing one minute and sniffling the next. Not only do these women make you laugh at times (especially Kelly and Gigi), but most chapters begin with these quick Listserv email strands from various neighbors that I found so funny...and so like something I would be reading if we had that service in my neighborhood! But interspersed with the comical parts of this story are some pretty heavy subject matters, all dealt with in very real and tender ways. Across the story we see these women grapple with insecurities, infidelities, and a wide range of concerns for their children, from the normal issues that come as children grow to possible abuse. Any parent will get a little hitch in their heart as these women and their husbands try to do everything they can for their families, sometimes with unexpected consequences, both good and very, very bad.
It's probably time for me to stop fangirling over this novel and its wonderful author, but I know I won't be able to forget about these women for a while (maybe we can see them show back up in a short story? Huh? Please?!). If you haven't already, pick up Sarah Pekkanen's novels. I cherish each one I've read....more
I fell in love with Taylor Jenkins Reid's writing the first time I read her debut novel, Forever, Interrupted, and have since read every book she's written as soon as I can get my hands on them. Needless to say, I had her newest, One True Loves, pre-ordered and dove right in as soon as it was delivered. I was once again absolutely delighted with the complex, emotional story she presented, one that had me not only eager to see how the characters would react to the impossible-seeming situation but questioning how I would react given the same.
I think for me the best part of the story (save the interesting dilemma it presented) was the time taken to fully develop these characters. Without it, I don't think I would have cared as much about Emma's love story and, other than still being an entertaining story, it wouldn't have had the emotional impact on me it did (really as all her books do). As it is, Reid crafts these characters that are funny, flawed, emotive, and as relatable as they come. She then takes the time to really develop their relationships and experiences, making everything feel that much more understandable. Giving the reader a clear view into how Emma lived with and loved both men made it that much more complicated when trying to decide (or figure out) who she would end up with. I did, however, know who I wanted her to pick about half way through, and I somewhat surprised myself since it wasn't whom I initially thought I would have selected. I think that just speaks to how much she had me invested in each of their lives.
While this is heavily a story about a woman figuring out which of the two loves of her life she should end up with, that isn't all this story has to provide. There's a complicated relationship between Emma and her sister (which most people with siblings will be able to relate to), a look at how grief and hardship changes people, as well as the idea that you never quite know where your life might take you, which might include going back to the very places you try so hard to get away from. There are a number of interesting threads running through the story, giving plenty to enjoy and ponder as the story progresses and long after it's done.
I'm clearly a huge fan of this author and recommend her all the time. I'm always surprised at the complex situations she puts her characters in and the way they, somehow, find a logical and very satisfying conclusion. I laugh, I get a little misty, and I completely fall for her characters and their dilemmas every time. One True Loves and really all her books are perfect, especially for this time of year, and I can't recommend them enough if you want a thoughtful, satisfying read. ...more
It's probably bad to say but, growing up in the times that I have, I've often taken for granted our seemingly inherent women's rights: the right to vote, the right to decide whether or not to get married or have children, the seemingly basic right to decide what to do with our own bodies. But reading novels like Terrible Virtue reminds me that so many woman had to sacrifice and suffer through so much to change the world as they lived it into the world we now have. Margaret Sanger is one such woman, born before her time and one that refused to let anyone tell her what to do or how to live her life. In the capable hands of Ellen Feldman she is allowed to tell her story, with its many ups and downs, and the reader is able to see just how much Margaret, and her many compatriots, had to fight to make themselves heard.
Terrible Virtue is written as Margaret telling her own story, from growing up poor until her death, as she navigates the often controversial choices she made, justifies the decisions and sets other falsities right. Interspersed with her point of view are short snippets from the points of view of some of those people who's lives she touched - both her husbands, her sister, son, lawyer, lovers, etc. - which all show some point in time she discusses from their point of view, showing how her actions hurt them in some way. I loved this as it helped round out the story and made her feel real. She wasn't a saint or a savior or a martyr as some of the women she worked to educate felt her to be. She did a lot of good, yes, but she was also an absentee parent, a selfish, free-loving woman who used men and moved on without much thought, and an ambitious and attention-loving woman who loved the spotlight as much as she loved fighting for free and easy contraceptives for every woman.
The writing is beautiful and evocative and the author did an excellent job of bringing the early 1900s to life. It covers so much ground - from the slums of New York and New Jersey, to the rich and poor areas of Paris and London, to a workhouse and prison, to what I would call a love commune in Europe - Margaret traveled all over either lecturing and studying or sharing her knowledge with those that needed it and the reader is able to go along for the adventures and experience it all. Some of it was exciting and fun but most of it was hard work and sacrifice and while I admired her for much of what she did it isn't a road I would have wanted to go down.
Margaret Sanger's grand mission to ensure no woman had to have a child they didn't desire, that every child that was born was cherished and loved and that the actual act of lovemaking did not have to lead to birth as a consequence seems so reasonable to our modern ears but, in her time, was salacious enough to lead to censorship and prison. The fact that this did not stop her and her fight to make sure contraception and education would be readily available to every woman, rich or poor, and would not lead to negative consequences to those that employed them makes her a remarkable and admirable woman, even if she was not an admirable wife or mother. Her far-reaching ideals have given all women freedoms that they might not have had without her determination and sacrifice, whether she felt they were sacrifices or not. I loved learning about this impressive rebel woman and Ellen Feldman did a wonderful job of bringing her to life....more
I have really been having a love/hate relationship with audiobooks lately. I find the Kindle copy/Audiobook copy combo on a great sale, pick it up, and throw caution to the wind regarding whether I'm going to find it completely captivating or have it fall flat for me. I like to listen to these books on my long commute to and from work each day so I'm always on the lookout for something to really grab me and keep me occupied. Unfortunately, The World Beneath ended up just being okay.
My first complaint with the story was the fact that, from the beginning, I felt like it was picking up in the middle of another story. From the description I thought this would be Joe's story of how he ended up living underground and the trials he faced in this somewhat self-made prison caused by his agoraphobia. Instead, we start with Joe already underground for six months, with established relationships that he is trying to hold on to while he can't leave the tunnels and a somewhat settled existence with his dog, Edison. I kept going back to the book information to make sure I was in fact reading the first in a series. The focus doesn't seem to be on Joe's reasons for being underground and how he might get out at all, but more on an infected monkey, trained soldiers, hired assassins, and the like. If this had been the second book in a series and I had already read the first, in which Joe's life and relationships were firmly established, I might have enjoyed this shift in focus. As it stands I felt somewhat cheated out of getting to know Joe better.
Secondly, while the narrator did a great job with the male voices and distinguishing each one, the women's voices (what few there were) were just bad. While this doesn't have anything to do with the actual story, since I was listening to this one it did affect my enjoyment. The story is also very heavy in description and internal dialogue and much lighter in actual dialogue and character interaction, which isn't necessarily a bad thing but did make the interactions between the characters seem somewhat superficial. Add on to this the fact that, during the many internal ruminations of Joe, we have every single number he says replaced with a color - in the middle of the sentences! - I found myself just wanting to get out of his head and move on to something else.
Now, I don't want it to sound like I didn't enjoy the story at all because that wouldn't be true. The relationship between Joe and his dog was really great and the author did an exceptional job of building that relationship and making it feel real, relatable, and so touching. Their interactions were by far my favorite parts. The author also did a wonderful job of building the world of the underground tunnels and describing it so well that you felt like you could feel, smell, touch it all. I was fascinated by the descriptions of the underground Victorian mansion that Joe was living in as well. The contrast between its opulence and the dark dankness of the tunnels was really quite breathtaking.
All in all I enjoyed aspects of this story while finding others somewhat irritating. I seem to be in the minority as others have given it great reviews and the book was the winner of the International Thriller Writers's Best Ebook Original Novel award. I will say that if the author decides to write a story that develops Joe's backstory I would definitely be interested in reading it. I think there is quite a lot of potential here, the way this story was presented just didn't work overly well for me. ...more
When I read the synopsis for The Evening Spider I immediately reached out to the wonderful ladies at TLC Book Tours and asked to please be a part of this tour. It had so many elements I love in one package: historical setting and true crime; psychological suspense; possibly ghosts with nefarious plans creeping around a creaky old house, terrifying a new mom. Jackpot! Now having finished I'm a little torn about how I feel about the story overall. Did I enjoy it? Very much! Did it live up to what I was expecting in my head or give me the gasping shock I wanted as my mind was blown by unexpected revelations? Not exactly.
The set up of the chapters was a little odd to me at first, but as I kept reading I really began to enjoy it. The story is broken up in short, alternating chapters between Frances in a Lunatic Asylum in 1885 as she relays to her brother the actions that brought her there five years before and Abby in 2014 trying to figure out what spirits might be haunting her house and possibly injuring her baby daughter. Once I got used to this pattern I found that it definitely kept the pages turning as little, unsettling bits of information are continuously dropped for the reader just before it switches back to the other storyline. And there are some legitimately creepy aspects about both storylines that I found just delicious.
I think my favorite creepy aspect would have to be Abby trying to figure out whether her house is truly haunted or whether she might be starting to lose her mind. She hears shushing on her baby monitor, doors are hard to open as though someone is pushing against it, she starts having these disturbing nightmares with someone else's baby in it as well as dreams that hint at something horrible having happened in Abby's past....it all adds up to just a general feeling of foreboding and I kept waiting to see exactly which way her somewhat tenuous hold on sanity was going to fall.
This isn't to say that Frances's story didn't have a lot to offer. From the get-go the way she was having such a seemingly innocuous conversation with her brother while sitting in a Lunatic Asylum made me think she was off her rocker and was going to really shock me with what we were going to learn. She was a very odd character and the way she presented her story made me think I wasn't quite getting the full picture. Towards the end of the novel I kept feverously turning pages to see what would happen and then....
Unfortunately I found the ending for both storylines odd and mostly unsatisfying. For the life of me I cannot figure out why the author chose to end both the way she did. We only learn bits and pieces of what really happened in Frances's story while never getting much reasoning or follow up and, in Abby's case, I still don't fully know what was happening. Abby makes a decision in her past that, no matter which way I try to reason it, I cannot fathom why she did it and there is no real resolution to her story. I was left feeling sort of like....is that all?
Unsatisfying ending aside The Evening Spider did hold my attention and give me hours of entertainment. Others might like the ending better than I did, so if the synopsis sounds like something you would generally enjoy I would recommend giving it a try. Just don't expect to be blown away when you turn the last page. ...more
I have to admit from the first sentence of this review that I have been just the worst reader ever! The lovely author of Essie's Roses, Michelle Muriel, sent me a copy almost a year ago, and I have just recently finished reading it. I started the book back in December 2015 (yes, you read that correctly) and at first attempt I just wasn't in the proper mood for a slowly unwinding story, as beautiful as it turned out to be. So it kept getting relegated to the bottom of my TBR pile, me stealing snippets of the story between other books. Then I resolved to buckle down and devote the time the book deserved to finish it, and I'm so glad I did. Essie's Rose's is a heartbreaking, heart mending look at the true meanings of love, family, and hope told in a unique and beautiful way.
The descriptions of Westland, the plantation much of the story takes place on, are absolutely stunning. This is not a story to be rushed as you really need to read it slowly and absorb all the imagery the author gives to the reader. So much of the story is taken up with building this background and the development of the characters, and their relationships, against it that you'll miss some of the key joy of the reading if you try and hurry through. This is especially true for the first part of the story, where not a lot of action happens but, instead, the reader is able to build a true understanding of and appreciation for the characters they'll be seeing go through some tremendously difficult times. Westland is both a salvation and a prison for these characters and it's only by the author's skill that this fact is fully realized.
And oh the characters you'll meet! I was really impressed with how the author gave wholly unique voices to our four main female characters. Each chapter begins with the name of the woman who's point of view we'll be seeing the story through in that chapter and each is written in that woman's voice, as you'd hear it in her own words. I have to admit that, because of this, it took me a little bit of time to get into the rhythm of speech of some of the characters, especially Delly, but once I got used to it the story flowed. There is so much that bonds these women and it was really interesting, if sad, seeing how each was living in her own personal prison and dealing with her own set of abuses, regardless of her skin color, age, or opportunities (or lack thereof) for a better future. These women help each other in a myriad of ways, especially Evie and Essie Mae, and it is only when they are fully honest with each other that they can support each other to try and move on from the horrors of the past.
Essie's Roses deals with a lot of very difficult topics (slavery, abuse, rape) but does so in a very tender and sensitive way. The story, for me, became more about the bonds of these women and how they truly loved each other enough to push each other to get past the hurt of the past and have hope for a better future than anything else. It took some time for me to really get into the book, but this might have more to do with the sort of book that was drawing my attention at the time than about this one itself. It's a beautifully rendered story and one that deserves to be felt and not just read.
It doesn’t happen all that often, but every once in a while I come across a book that really touches a neFind my full review at www.luxuryreading.com.
It doesn’t happen all that often, but every once in a while I come across a book that really touches a nerve in me, one that I can relate to and appreciate on a more personal level. This has actually happened a few times this year and I think it speaks to the abundance of very talented contemporary fiction authors out there right now. Sally Hepworth’s novel, The Things We Keep, is one such story that completely pulled me in and had me captivated until I turned the last page.
The Things We Keep is told from three different perspectives: Anna, a 39 year old woman living at the Rosalind House residential home who suffers from young-onset Alzheimer’s; Eve, a mid-30s fine dining chef who has come to find employment as the cook at Rosalind House after her husband killed himself and left her alone to deal with the aftermath of a Ponzi scheme he orchestrated; and Clementine, Eve’s 7 year old daughter who is forced, at too early an age, to reconcile the daddy she misses so much with the bad man so many people are calling him. While Eve’s and Clementine’s story lines are in the present, dealing with the difficult situation they find themselves in, Anna’s goes back a little into the past and progressively gets closer to the current time as the story continues. All three of these characters, along with many of the delightful secondary characters, have to struggle to deal with the various parts of themselves, both the good and the bad. It is within this struggle, whether it is emotionally or, in Anna’s case, a physical struggle, that the real hearts of the characters come out.
Through Anna’s story line we also get to see her experience a relationship with Luke, another young resident of Rosalind House, who is suffering from front temporal dementia, which affects his speech and other language skills. Sally Hepworth did an exceptional job of getting the reader inside Anna’s head, so you could not only feel her frustration, confusion and anger but witness how her disease affected her thought processes, her memory and her ability to express her thoughts and wishes. With Anna being so close to my own age, I really related to her and could completely empathize with her feelings and actions…I would respond the exact same way if I was in her situation. Possibly because of this I really connected with her and her attempts, even when she wasn’t even aware of why she was doing it, to stay connected with Luke. There is a secret revolving around Anna that resulted in her being separated from Luke during much of the story (and which drives Eve’s attempts to help them be together) and while I have to admit that I saw it coming a mile away, it did add to the development of not only Anna’s character but her relationship with her brother and his reasons for wanting to protect her so badly. Anna was such a fascinating character to me that I really wanted her to be as happy as she could be, as her brain continued to fail her, and longed for something to be done to help her.
The Things We Keep is a fascinating look into the human struggle to understand why things happen to us and how to hold on to whatever we can when it all starts tumbling down. It’s about grasping happiness wherever you can and reconciling the past to the past and being able to move on without forgetting all that came before. There are so many delightful characters going through some heartbreaking circumstances that I loved the whole community within Rosalind House. If you want to experience a wonderfully written, deeply felt story then you can’t go wrong with The Things We Keep....more
Oh my, did I itch to get my hands on this book! I've read and really enjoyed a few of Karen Harper's books before and seem to never be able to turn down a book about the British royal family. On top of that, I haven't read very much about the Windsors, so this seemed like the perfect opportunity to learn more about this branch of British royalty. I'm so happy to say that The Royal Nanny not only fed my need for royal fiction but also gave me so much more than I expected when it came to the rearing and caring of children during this time period.
My favorite aspect of the story has to be the behind-the-scenes feel of it. As I read the story I couldn't help but think about how truly unique Charlotte's life was. I can't think of another position that would have not only the access to royal parents and their spectacular extended network of family and friends but that would have the ability to influence and raise the next generation of history-making individuals. These nannies love their charges (or should...Charlotte took over for a hideous woman who didn't!) and are loved in turn by these elite set of people, and not many people can say that. In the capable hands of Ms. Harper we the reader are so lucky to see into every hidden corner and witness, from the viewpoint of an incredibly well drawn woman, history in the making as well as the youngsters who would go on to make even more history.
Another wonderful aspect is just how real the characters feel (which is wonderful, since many are, in fact, real people from history). It was easy for me to picture every one of the characters populating the story, with all their unique and interesting foibles. I especially adored Charlotte and her royal children, even when I found myself frustrated or disappointed by some of the choices they made. I think any time an author can make the reader really feel for the characters they present, the reader's going to be in for a treat. Add on to that a great perspective and storyline and you're golden. Now teach the reader something about history and the world around them, and I can't think of anything else you could want (at least for this history-loving reader).
Now, I will say that the only character I wasn't overly crazy about was Chad Reaver, the gamekeeper (and much more) of the Sandringham estate. I hate saying this as there isn't really anything wrong with Chad, he's a likable enough character, but I felt Charlotte's attraction to him pulled her attention (and therefore the attention of the reader) from the characters and situations I was most interested in. She spent a lot of time thinking about him, and I (especially in the beginning) kept wanting to tell her to focus on other things around her that I wanted to hear more about. This is completely selfish, I know, but there you have it. I did like him more as the story progressed, but I'm never the biggest fan of the romance elements of stories, so this was my least favorite aspect.
All this being said, The Royal Nanny is a wonderful story. I'm sure I'll be thinking about Charlotte and her children for a good while now that I'm done spending time with them. Like most wonderful fiction stories, this story has me excited to read more nonfiction about nannies, the upstairs/downstairs dynamic and interaction, and each of these individual historical people. If you love historical fiction - especially the kind dealing with royalty - as much as I do, you can't go wrong with The Royal Nanny....more
Ah, the glitz and glamour of tinseltown! Who doesn't love the exquisite costumes and makeup, lavish set designs and larger than life personalities of the golden age of Hollywood? I've spent many an hour curled up watching old black and white movies, marveling at the splendor on the screen and own a copy of Gone with the Wind - my favorite movie of all time - in every possible format I can get my hands on so I always have it ready to watch wherever I am. But given this perfection and the powerful emotions drawing the performers together, what happened when the cameras stopped rolling and real-life began? All the Stars in the Heavens tackles not only the beauty of Hollywood during this magical time but the very real and very flawed people who inhabited it.
The story is told in the third person and jumps relatively rapidly from one person's perspective to the other. While this could be confusing at times, once I got used to it I found it a wonderful way to see inside the lives and heads of a large number of players. While the bulk of the focus is on Loretta Young and her secretary, Alda Ducci, the reader also sees into the hearts of a host of other characters, including some pretty famous names such as David Niven, Clark Gable and Spencer Tracy. These characters in particular, along with Loretta's mother, sisters and a few others, are wonderfully developed and the dialogue between them is brilliant and witty and feels right out of one of those wonderful movies these people inhabited. There are a number of other high profile names sprinkled throughout this hefty story that seem more used for background development and name dropping than to actually showcase the people behind the names, but the main characters are all developed into incredibly real, flawed people. And oh how flawed they are!
I find it amazing that Adriana Trigiani was able to give me these characters with some serious imperfections in personality and still make me love them. The men are especially selfish and unfaithful - I can't think of one male character, save a few priests, that didn't in fact cheat on the women they were romantically involved with - but somehow their humor, caring hearts and/or their dedication to their careers make them endearing even when you know they are not the type of men any woman would want to marry. The women have their own lapses in judgement and many seem to trade partners and husbands like they might dresses, but their love for family, passions and even religion seemed to shine through the muck they made in their personal lives to make them very real and very endearing. This would include the big "secret" Loretta keeps from most everyone for more years than seems possible and that Alda helps her orchestrate. While I can't say I agree with many of the choices she made her heart was clearly in the right place and she did the best she could given her experiences and the times she lived in.
On top of the wonderful characters, my favorite aspect of All the Stars in the Heavens would have to be the great attention and detail given to the development of the settings. Every small detail that went into the making of a movie - from painting and rigging the settings, dressing and making up the stars, filming on locations on and off lots, negotiating contracts, press junkets and fans, and so much more - are shown to the reader so it is impossible to not feel completely enmeshed in the process. The homes and locations, from Italy to California to a snow-covered mountain in Washington State, are all perfectly presented so the reader can see it all right before them.
This is the first novel I've read by Adriana Trigiani and I am so glad I started with this one. While there might be almost too much development of the many characters and settings throughout this epic novel, it is all and all a wonderful immersion into a particularly fascinating time and place in American history and culture. I not only feel like I was presented with a wonderful story but a better understanding of what it took to make a movie at the dawn of modern cinema. With as much attention as was given to the many people involved I very much wish the author had included a detailed author note at the end of the novel to help me navigate what portions and people are true to history and what was created to advance the story. Even without this I am now ready to delve even further into the history of this golden age in movies and I look forward to reading more by the author as well. ...more
The Kopp sisters are unlike any in fiction I have come across before! Each has her own quirks but all three - stubbornly willful Constance, bullish Norma and dramatic Fleurette - are intelligent, outspoken and incredibly resourceful, making for quite the combination. The very fact that the three live alone together happily on a farm out in the country is remarkable given the time in which they live. None of the men who come into contact with them knows quite what to do or what to expect from them, least of all the brutish Mr. Kaufman who expects them to roll over and give up after he causes the buggy accident that changes all their lives forever.
I think my favorite aspect of the novel, beyond my admiration for what Constance accomplishes by refusing to let the wrongs done to her and others go unchecked, is the introduction of what I think of as more modern law enforcement tactics in the beginning of the 20th Century. Not only does Constance do her own detective work, something not normally done, we get to see the meticulous collection of both forensic and photographic evidence, stakeouts, private investigations, the use of media (in this case newspapers) to influence the way a case is viewed by the public and sentencing deals done between police and criminals in exchange for information. There's even a courtroom drama towards the end of the novel.
An interesting twist added to the crime drama element is the slow unraveling of a long buried family secret that is revealed to the reader in flashbacks and memories. This secret, and the revelation of the paranoid and phobic way their mother raised them, is the very reason the sisters have so isolated themselves from society and determined that outsiders, even police, cannot be trusted. This buggy accident, while awful and traumatic for a number of reasons, does serve some good in bringing the sisters out of their own world somewhat and forcing them to realize that, at times, everyone needs help.
On the downside, I did find that the story dragged in parts. There are aspects added, such as Norma's slightly obsessive interest in her carrier pigeons, that didn't seem to add anything to the story and from the author's notes aren't based in the history known of the Kopp sisters. Another aspect that slowed the story down somewhat was the inclusion of a missing child case that Constance refuses to let go. While I found it interesting I'm not overly sure why it was included, other than to highlight the fact that Constance would make a good detective. I felt the close relationship between Constance and the sheriff was also made to insinuate some sort of attraction between the two, but that didn't seem to end up going anywhere.
Overall, Girl Waits with Gun is an entertaining and enlightening look into a unique, true to life woman who did her part to change the way society looked at the capabilities of women in law enforcement. There are moments of humor, heart and suspense and I'm so happy Amy Stewart brought these wonderful women's stories to the public. They really are unforgettable!...more
From page one of The Night Sister an eerie feeling permeates the story, one that makes you think of dangeFind my full review at www.luxuryreading.com.
From page one of The Night Sister an eerie feeling permeates the story, one that makes you think of dangerous things hanging back in the shadows, just waiting to pounce. It opens with one of our protagonists, Piper, being called home by her sister, Margot, after their childhood friend, Amy, is found dead along with her husband and son at what remains of Amy’s childhood home, the Tower Motel her grandfather built. All signs point to Amy as the murderer but neither woman can believe their friend would do that. It’s up to Piper to find out exactly what happened to Amy and her family, especially since the only survivor of the murders, Amy’s daughter Lou, could still be in danger.
Going back and forth in time, between the present, the late 1980’s when Piper, Margot and Amy were childhood friends looking into the mysteries of Amy’s family’s past, and the late 1950s/early 1960s when Amy’s mother Rose and Aunt Sylvie lived at the motel, little snippets of information are revealed that, in the beginning, create more questions than answers but soon begin falling into place revealing a much larger and darker puzzle. The author does a great job of keeping the tension and mystery strong, especially since there are so many story lines running at the same time that all seem somewhat separate at first but wrap up nicely by the end. There is clearly much going on than our characters are initially aware of, and there are a few gruesome and truly terrifying parts that definitely kept me glued to the story. Suffice it to say Piper and Margot are in way over their head and their own lives are put into danger by the time they finally figure out exactly what happened to Amy and what dark secret Amy’s family has been hiding for generations.
My only real issue with The Night Sister was how heavy the paranormal elements were. I knew going in there was the possibility of ghosts or ghouls or scary things but I assumed these scary mysteries from the past would turn out to have more grounded roots in reality. This wasn’t the case and let’s just say fans of “monsters” will be very happy to read this novel. I still very much enjoyed the novel, it just surprised me with this specific paranormal turn it took.
If you’re looking for a scary story about things that go bump in the night you will not be disappointed with The Night Sister. I can honestly say I had a few scaredy-cat moments during this story, and that isn’t something that happens often with me. I definitely plan to read more by Jennifer McMahon, I only hope they aren’t all as heavily immersed in the paranormal as this one. ...more