During the siege of Leningrad in World War II, Lev and Kolya find themselves in jail at the same time. After a sleepless night in which they expect to...moreDuring the siege of Leningrad in World War II, Lev and Kolya find themselves in jail at the same time. After a sleepless night in which they expect to be executed the next morning, they instead find themselves facing a Colonel in the Red Army. He will let them go free if they agree to find a dozen eggs for his daughter's wedding cake. Leningrad is surrounded by Germans and people are starving to death in the streets. They don't know how they're going to do it but they undertake the task.
I really think I would have enjoyed this more in print. There was nothing really wrong with Ron Perlman's narration, but the tone of his voice is just so low that it was pretty easy for me to unintentionally tune him out as I was driving.
That said, I did enjoy it. Poor young, serious Lev, to be stuck with Kolya! But I loved Kolya. He's like that one person that you really like even though you're uncomfortable around him more often than not because of the things that he says. He has no idea when to shut up but he's so charming that he generally gets away with saying whatever he's thinking. He thinks a lot about girls and how much he hates the Germans and a book named The Courtyard Hound. He quotes it all the time! I would have been more of a Lev in their situation, terrified of everything, but Kolya kept young Lev going. He kept me laughing and shaking my head.
The novel felt a bit like The Odyssey, with the young man drifting from one insane adventure to the next. While their journey only lasts a week, so much happens that it felt like much longer. Cannibals, sadists, epic chess games, I just never knew what they were going to get into next. I liked that.
What I did not like was the ending. Not one little bit. I can see that it was necessary but that doesn't mean I have to like it.
This was a perfect read during the--what are they calling it? Polar Vortex?--that has chilled most of the US. I'll complain about the cold all day if I can but reading about these young men in the frigid temperatures of Russia, well the USSR at the time, with no food and inadequate clothing helped me keep things in perspective. Settle in to read this when it's cold outside, enjoy it, and be thankful for what you have.(less)
Molly Ayer has messed up one too many times. She's caught up in the foster system and her latest mistake has left her with a choice of either fifty ho...moreMolly Ayer has messed up one too many times. She's caught up in the foster system and her latest mistake has left her with a choice of either fifty hours of community service or going to juvie. Her boyfriend searches around and finds out that his mom's employer, 91-year-old widow Vivian Daly, needs help cleaning out her attic. Everyone agrees that this can be counted as community service so Molly heads over to the old woman's house. She initially sees it as a chore but she's pleasantly surprised when she realizes how much she and Mrs. Daly have in common.
In New York in the late 1920s and early 1930s, Niamh Power is left an orphan when her recently-immigrated family is killed in an apartment fire. She lives in an orphanage for a few months but then the Children's Aid Society sends her out to the Midwest on an "orphan train." Chaperones would take scores of kids around to different venues and basically give them to whomever wanted them. No one knew which would be worse--not to be chosen at all or to go to a bad family. Either way, the entire process was humiliating and nerve-wracking.
This was such a good book. I hadn't ever heard of the orphan trains, but they were a reality in American history from about 1850 to 1930. Apparently over 200,000 children were relocated in this way. Can you imagine? With all the red tape today? Just show up at the train station and pick yourself out a healthy-looking boy to help Pa out around the farm. Of course you'll promise to send him to school but who's going to check up on that? Nobody. And who's going to make sure that you're feeding him enough? Again, nobody. And if Pa occasionally gets a little too rough with the discipline, well, it's not like he's family or anything. Maybe it was better than slowly starving to death on the streets of New York, but it was a deeply, deeply flawed process. Holy cow.
In a dual narrative like this, I think every reader will enjoy one story more than the other and that was true for me here. I couldn't wait to get back to Niamh's story. There was nothing wrong with Molly's present-day story but the draw for me was the history. I related a little more to Niamh too. She's a good girl who tries her best to blend in and do as she's told while Molly, outwardly at least, is more of a rebel. I'm always going to understand the Niamh personality more than the Molly personality, at least in general and up to a point.
I hope this is okay to share...
I read this with my book club. One of my friends couldn't wait to talk about her reactions to the book. She's been through the foster system herself and she was blown away by how spot-on the whole book was. From the insecurity to learning to work the system in your own favor, she said every word was accurate. I've never been through anything like this (Thank heaven for a loving, supportive family) but I would guess that the rest of us liked it because it rang true. I'm going to get into the dangerous world of stereotypes here and say that most readers are an empathetic bunch so we're going to notice if something just doesn't feel right, whether it's a situation we've ever personally experienced or not. This one felt right.
The book was not without its flaws but they are easily overlooked. There's at least one huge coincidence that left me rolling my eyes. Events occurred that I just knew were setting up a future conflict that never happened. The ending was a little too tidy and it was definitely abrupt. Our whole book club agreed on that.
Read this for a look at a little-known piece of American history, to feel a little more thankful for your family if you're fortunate like me, or to feel a little less alone if you've been through situations like this. It was a fast read and I thoroughly enjoyed it.(less)
In a dual narrative, author Sena Jeter Naslund explores the lives of a modern-day fictional author, Kathryn Callaghan--a "woman of a certain age,"--an...moreIn a dual narrative, author Sena Jeter Naslund explores the lives of a modern-day fictional author, Kathryn Callaghan--a "woman of a certain age,"--and artist Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun, famous for painting portraits of Marie Antoinette. Both women are looking back over their lives, evaluating their choices and reflecting on their losses.
2.5 Stars but I'm generously rounding up.
I am not the greatest audience for this book. I hesitated before requesting a review copy. I really, really, really disliked Ms. Naslund's last book, Adam & Eve, and I disliked Portrait of the Artist of a Young Man when I read it in college. I've never done well with stream of consciousness. If I'm going to follow random thoughts down the rabbit hole, I'd rather follow my own; they're more interesting. But. I really, really, really loved Ahab's Wife, also by Ms. Naslund. It has a firm place in my personal top ten list. It was a toss-up so I decided to go for it.
The modern-day story just dragged on and on and on. I mean it when I say I don't do well with stream of consciousness. I could not care less about every little thought that crosses a character's brain. That said, it felt right. I have the feeling that if I were closer in age to either of these two characters, I might have loved this book. The reflections, the difficult choices that are made about aging parents, children as children and when they're adults, marriages, it all rang true and I feel that Ms. Naslund captured it perfectly. As a 35-year-old married woman with no children and parents who are still (knocking on wood) working and in decent, if not perfect, health, I couldn't find the kind of bone-deep connection I think I would have needed to really appreciate this novel.
I did much better with Madame LeBrun's story. It was much more structured with a beginning, middle, and end, and I liked reading about her life just before and after the French Revolution. The "during" years were a bit glossed over, but she got safely out of the country before everything got really bad, and anyone wanting to read more about that era should read Ms. Naslund's excellent novel about Marie Antoinette, Abundance. Her parts were very short though and before I knew it, I was mired back in the one never-ending day in the life of modern Kathryn Callaghan.
As always, Naslund's writing was beautiful and I loved the sense of place in both stories. I want to see Kathryn Callaghan's old Louisville neighborhood and Élisabeth's apartment in Paris and her cottage at Louveciennes.
Otherwise, this book was mostly forgettable for me. Readers who do better with stream of consciousness or who are more contemporaneous with the two main characters will enjoy it more than I did.(less)
Laura Grey is tired of her life as a governess, so she joins forces with The Pink Carnation. After the requisite training, she is sent to work as a go...moreLaura Grey is tired of her life as a governess, so she joins forces with The Pink Carnation. After the requisite training, she is sent to work as a governess for Andre Jaouen, a high-ranking official in the French Ministry of Police. She's also tasked with finding out any information that might be of use to the Pink Carnation and her league of British spies.
I consistently love this series and rate them around 4 stars but this is one of my favorites. But maybe I say that about all of them--I wouldn't be surprised. They are full of intelligent women who don't need men to protect them but they like to keep the guys around anyway. I grin like an idiot at the witty dialog as I read and I hate to turn the last page. What more can you ask for?
I love the chemistry between Laura and Andre and I love that it is impossible to guess exactly what he's up to. He's a good father who genuinely cares for his children and grieves for his dead wife. He's doing his best to navigate the tumultuous politics of Napoleonic France while staying true to his ideals and protecting his children.
Laura is beautifully flawed and full of contradictions that work. She's the archetype of a strait-laced governess but it's easy to see that there's much more to her than that. She's learned to tame any desires and wishes that she has and just be glad that she's able to support herself and keep a roof over her head. She's scared when she finds herself in dangerous situations but she handles them beautifully and ingeniously. She's probably one of my favorite heroines in the Pink Carnation series. But I probably say that after I read every book too.
I'm over Colin and Eloise's glacially-moving romance. I've never cared for the modern-day story but it just gets weaker and weaker to me. It feels like the author is losing interest in it as well. I will admit that there was a development in this story that could be a setup for some interesting times in the next book though.
Fans of the series won't be disappointed with this installment. There are so few overlapping characters in it that new readers might be able to dive into it without reading the others in the series, but I would still recommend reading them in order.(less)
Jacky Faber finds herself working for the Royal Navy again after being mistakenly pressed into service. The ship she finds herself on is in bad shape,...moreJacky Faber finds herself working for the Royal Navy again after being mistakenly pressed into service. The ship she finds herself on is in bad shape, with a sick, evil captain who reigns with an iron fist and who has let his boat and his crew get into bad shape. Nothing can keep Jacky down for long though and she's soon making friends and plans in equal measure.
I cannot express how much I love listening to Katherine Kellgren narrate this series. She doesn't hold anything back and narrates in a larger-than-life tone that is completely in keeping with Jacky's character. Kellgren sounds like she is having the time of her life reading these books and that makes me love them all the more.
I would love them anyway because Jacky is such a great character. Why do we tend to love girls who dress up as boys and live the life they want? I probably just answered my own question. She's loyal and fierce and sly and intelligent and greedy and too big for her britches. She's a big mess of contradictions and that makes her feel so darn real.
My one complaint about this book is that we have to travel down the road of an older man trying to prey on attractive young Jacky again. It's a different man, but, really. Teenage girls of any era do have things to worry about other than lecherous old men trying to have their way with them. It didn't take up as much of the book as I was afraid it would but as soon as it came up I rolled my eyes and thought, "Here we go again."
Jaimy is starting to get on my nerves too. He's as fussy and as much of a stickler for the rules as a prissy old maid. I forget what Jacky see in him. He only sees the woman that Jacky could have been if her early years had been different, not the impetuous, ambitious ragamuffin that she actually is.
Other than that, this book was full of adventure, drama, suspense, and laughs. It is everything that a good story should be.
This series is a blast and girls who can see the appeal of living life on your own terms will love it. I highly, highly recommend trying it out on audio.(less)
Carrie McClelland is an author struggling with writer's block. She heads for Scotland for some alone time to try to work through it. When she arrives,...moreCarrie McClelland is an author struggling with writer's block. She heads for Scotland for some alone time to try to work through it. When she arrives, she is immediately attracted to Slains Castle and decides to use it in her book.
In 1708, Sophia Paterson finds herself at Slains Castle as well. She finds herself mixed up in a Jacobite rebellion and falls in love with one of the soldiers.
I know, that's pathetic, but it's been ***coughcoughalmostayearcoughcough*** since I read this. I loved it so much that I did want to get some sort of review down.
I love Scotland. I haven't been, but I think that will be our next European vacation. I'm just dying to go. I don't actually read all that many stories set there, I think because I don't want to get sick of it. It just seems so beautiful, so different, yet so familiar. There's a reason so many Scots settled in the Southern Appalachians--they were reminded of home. It works both ways now.
Anyway, I read this on our cruise last year, and even though I was bathed in sunlight on the Caribbean, my mind was totally lost to the coolness and mist of Scotland.
I liked both stories equally, which is pretty rare. I usually read through one story just waiting to get back to the one that I'm really interested in, but I was happy just going back and forth between Carrie and Sophia.
I liked Graham and John Moray. They are both handsome, solid, dependable men. With Scottish accents. What's not to love?
The ending has a twist that I did see coming from pretty far away. My mom read this around the same time I did and it caught her completely off guard. We were both happy with it though.
So, my review does not have the most details, but if you only take away one thing, it should be this: when you're looking for a romantic, atmospheric Scottish book, pick this one up. I really, really liked it.(less)