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Review: THE CHELSEA GIRLS by Fiona Davis

Review:  THE CHELSEA GIRLS by Fiona DavisThe Chelsea Girls by Fiona Davis
four-half-stars
Published by Dutton Books on July 30, 2019
Genres: Historical Fiction
Pages: 368
Source: Netgalley
Amazon | Barnes & Noble | The Book Depository
Goodreads

FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Netgalley. All opinions are my own..

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

THE CHELSEA GIRLS Review

 

As a fan of historical fiction and a lover of all things New York City, I have had Fiona Davis’ novels on my must-read list for a while now. I had a feeling she would be a great fit for me, and I’m happy to say that my instinct was correct. Her latest novel, The Chelsea Girls, was everything I hoped it would be and more.  The story begins in Naples Italy during WWII and follows two young women, Hazel Ripley and Maxine Mead, who meet and become fast friends while serving on a USO tour together.  Once the war is over, Hazel and Maxine return to the states, specifically to New York City and the iconic Chelsea Hotel, where they are each looking to jumpstart their careers, Maxine as an actress and Hazel as a playwright.  The Chelsea Girls follows both Hazel and Maxine and focuses on how their lives and their friendship are impacted by the 1950s and specifically the McCarthy Era and the threat of Communism.

The historical aspect of The Chelsea Girls was a huge draw for me.  The 1950s is a period I’ve not encountered in many historical novels so, in many ways, it was a unique and refreshing read. Davis also does an incredible job of portraying just how destructive this period in history was for the entertainment industry.  Joseph McCarthy, the House Unamerican Activities Committee, and everyone else who bought into the hysteria and fear that Communists were infiltrating the U.S. were just relentless and ruthless in their pursuit and takedown of anyone they suspected of having Communist ties.  I was riveted by Davis’ exploration of the way they targeted the entertainment industry, and especially the way they got so many in the theater world blacklisted, destroying careers and lives, often without a shred of real evidence against their targets.

It wasn’t just the historical aspect of the novel that appealed to me though. I was also drawn to The Chelsea Girls because I knew a female friendship was at the heart of the story. And the friendship between Hazel and Maxine does not disappoint. Both characters are multi-layered and just oh so complex and their relationship follows suit.  I became completely invested in their friendship as soon as they met on the USO tour in Naples during WWII and continued to care very deeply for them as they experienced the inevitable ups and downs that come with a 20+ year friendship.  Their relationship is filled not only with love, friendship, support and successes, but also with failures, hurt, and betrayal.  Davis does a beautiful job of weaving together all those elements in such an organic way that it felt like I knew these women and was there watching their relationship evolve over the years.  I didn’t always love both characters, but I was still invested in them just the same.

A final element of Davis’ storytelling that I loved is that she makes the iconic Chelsea Hotel into a character of sorts.  This fascinated me, especially given the host of illustrious artistic types the landmark hotel housed in its day. If the Chelsea were actually a person, he or she would certainly have seen a lot!

As a side note, I also loved that as we follow Hazel’s career as a playwright, we get to follow the steps involved in staging a play on Broadway.  We see it from writing the actual script all the way through to opening night. I found it all so interesting and loved the extra layer that it added to an already multi-layered story.

The Chelsea Girls is an engaging and powerful historical read.  In addition to shedding a light on what a witch hunt the McCarthy Era really was, it’s also a moving story about female friendship and all its highs and lows.  These characters and their experiences are going to stick with me for a while and so I’d highly recommend it to any fan of historical fiction, theater, and female friendships.

Fiona Davis has me hooked now with her special brand of storytelling.  The Chelsea Girls was my first read from her, but it definitely will not be my last!

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

From Fiona Davis, the nationally bestselling author of The Dollhouse and The Address, the bright lights of the theater district, the glamour and danger of 1950s New York, and the wild scene at the iconic Chelsea Hotel come together in a dazzling new novel about the twenty-year friendship that will irrevocably change two women’s lives.

From the dramatic redbrick facade to the sweeping staircase dripping with art, the Chelsea Hotel has long been New York City’s creative oasis for the many artists, writers, musicians, actors, filmmakers, and poets who have called it home—a scene playwright Hazel Riley and actress Maxine Mead are determined to use to their advantage. Yet they soon discover that the greatest obstacle to putting up a show on Broadway has nothing to do with their art, and everything to do with politics. A Red scare is sweeping across America, and Senator Joseph McCarthy has started a witch hunt for Communists, with those in the entertainment industry in the crosshairs. As the pressure builds to name names, it is more than Hazel and Maxine’s Broadway dreams that may suffer as they grapple with the terrible consequences, but also their livelihood, their friendship, and even their freedom.

Spanning from the 1940s to the 1960s, The Chelsea Girls deftly pulls back the curtain on the desperate political pressures of McCarthyism, the complicated bonds of female friendship, and the siren call of the uninhibited Chelsea Hotel.

four-half-stars

About Fiona Davis

Fiona Davis is the nationally bestselling author of THE MASTERPIECE, THE DOLLHOUSE and THE ADDRESS. She began her career in New York City as an actress, where she worked on Broadway, off-Broadway, and in regional theater. After getting a master’s degree at Columbia Journalism School, she fell in love with writing, leapfrogging from editor to freelance journalist before finally settling down as an author of historical fiction. Visit her at www.fionadavis.net, facebook.com/FionaDavisAuthor/ and on Instagram and Twitter @fionajdavis.

Review: THE WORLD THAT WE KNEW by Alice Hoffman

Review:  THE WORLD THAT WE KNEW by Alice HoffmanThe World That We Knew by Alice Hoffman
Also by this author: Faithful
five-stars
Published by Simon & Schuster on September 24, 2019
Genres: Historical Fiction, Fantasy
Pages: 384
Source: Netgalley
Amazon | Barnes & Noble | The Book Depository
Goodreads

FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Netgalley. All opinions are my own..

 

 

 

 

 

 

THE WORLD THAT WE KNEW Review

 

I’m very hit or miss when it comes to books that feature magical realism.  The one author whose books are an exception to that is Alice Hoffman.  When I saw that she had a new novel coming out, I immediately requested it, especially once I saw that it was set during WWII.  I know WWII fiction has dominated the historical fiction market for a while now and that it seems like every possible story has already been told, but I was also sure that Hoffman would bring something new to the table.  And I’m happy to say she did not disappoint.

With The World That We Knew, Hoffman delivers a powerful story of love, sacrifice, and survival.  It begins in Berlin in 1941, where a Jewish woman named Hanni Kohn is faced with an impossible decision. She knows it’s time to get her family out of Germany before it’s too late, but she also knows that her elderly mother is too sick to travel and will refuse to leave her home anyway.  Hanni make the heart wrenching decision to stay with her mother but to send her own daughter, 12-year-old Lea, away so that she has a chance to escape from the Nazis and survive.  Hoffman does a beautiful job painting a portrait of a mother who is willing to do absolutely everything she can for her family, even if it means sacrificing herself.  Hanni’s love comes through loud and clear in every sentence as she desperately seeks someone who can help get Lea out of Germany.

The story takes a magical turn when Hanni is directed to a rabbi who can help her.  It isn’t the rabbi who eventually helps, however. It’s his daughter, Ettie.  Ettie has watched her father at work for years and she knows how to create a mystical Jewish creature called a golem.  A golem is a creature made out of clay whose sole purpose is to do whatever its creator asks it to do.  In this case, Ettie asks the golem, who she and Hanni name Ava, to serve as a protector for Lea and to do everything in its power to ensure she does not fall victim to the Nazis.  The rest of the story revolves around Lea, Ava, and Ettie whose lives become intertwined as they each strive for survival in wartime Germany and then France.

I don’t want to say anything else about the plot because I think each of their journeys is best experienced spoiler-free, but I will say that the story explores many powerful themes that resonated with me.  It explores love in many different forms, including the love between a mother and child, the love between sisters, and even first love, which somehow still manages to blossom even in the middle of a war zone.  Hoffman also explores sacrifice, resistance, and the strength and resilience that it takes to survive in such a dark time.  With her inclusion of the golem and even Azrael, the Angel of Death, The World That We Knew almost reads like a fairy tale or fable and it’s that element that raises Hoffman’s version of historical fiction to a level all on its own.

Alice Hoffman is one of my favorite authors not just because her writing is gorgeous, but also because she uses magical realism in a way that is truly captivating.  I don’t know how she manages to do it so consistently and effectively, but the magic she infuses into her stories always ends up seeming so convincing and authentic that it leaves me with a feeling that perhaps there is a little magic in the world after all.

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

In 1941, during humanity’s darkest hour, three unforgettable young women must act with courage and love to survive, from the New York Times bestselling author of The Dovekeepers and The Marriage of Opposites Alice Hoffman.

In Berlin, at the time when the world changed, Hanni Kohn knows she must send her twelve-year-old daughter away to save her from the Nazi regime. She finds her way to a renowned rabbi, but it’s his daughter, Ettie, who offers hope of salvation when she creates a mystical Jewish creature, a rare and unusual golem, who is sworn to protect Lea. Once Ava is brought to life, she and Lea and Ettie become eternally entwined, their paths fated to cross, their fortunes linked.

Lea and Ava travel from Paris, where Lea meets her soulmate, to a convent in western France known for its silver roses; from a school in a mountaintop village where three thousand Jews were saved. Meanwhile, Ettie is in hiding, waiting to become the fighter she’s destined to be.

What does it mean to lose your mother? How much can one person sacrifice for love? In a world where evil can be found at every turn, we meet remarkable characters that take us on a stunning journey of loss and resistance, the fantastical and the mortal, in a place where all roads lead past the Angel of Death and love is never ending.

five-stars

About Alice Hoffman

alice hoffman

Alice Hoffman was born in New York City on March 16, 1952 and grew up on Long Island. After graduating from high school in 1969, she attended Adelphi University, from which she received a BA, and then received a Mirrellees Fellowship to the Stanford University Creative Writing Center, which she attended in 1973 and 74, receiving an MA in creative writing. She currently lives in Boston.

Hoffman’s first novel, Property Of, was written at the age of twenty-one, while she was studying at Stanford, and published shortly thereafter by Farrar Straus and Giroux. She credits her mentor, professor and writer Albert J. Guerard, and his wife, the writer Maclin Bocock Guerard, for helping her to publish her first short story in the magazine Fiction. Editor Ted Solotaroff then contacted her to ask if she had a novel, at which point she quickly began to write what was to become Property Of, a section of which was published in Mr. Solotaroff’s magazine, American Review.

Since that remarkable beginning, Alice Hoffman has become one of our most distinguished novelists. She has published a total of twenty-three novels, three books of short fiction, and eight books for children and young adults. Her novel, Here on Earth, an Oprah Book Club choice, was a modern reworking of some of the themes of Emily Bronte’s masterpiece Wuthering Heights. Practical Magic was made into a Warner film starring Sandra Bullock and Nicole Kidman. Her novel, At Risk, which concerns a family dealing with AIDS, can be found on the reading lists of many universities, colleges and secondary schools. Hoffman’s advance from Local Girls, a collection of inter-related fictions about love and loss on Long Island, was donated to help create the Hoffman Breast Center at Mt. Auburn Hospital in Cambridge, MA. Blackbird House is a book of stories centering around an old farm on Cape Cod. Hoffman’s recent books include Aquamarine and Indigo, novels for pre-teens, and The New York Times bestsellers The River King, Blue Diary, The Probable Future, and The Ice Queen. Green Angel, a post-apocalyptic fairy tale about loss and love, was published by Scholastic and The Foretelling, a book about an Amazon girl in the Bronze Age, was published by Little Brown. In 2007 Little Brown published the teen novel Incantation, a story about hidden Jews during the Spanish Inquisition, which Publishers Weekly has chosen as one of the best books of the year. Her most recent novels include The Third Angel,The Story Sisters, the teen novel, Green Witch, a sequel to her popular post-apocalyptic fairy tale, Green Angel. The Red Garden, published in 2011, is a collection of linked fictions about a small town in Massachusetts where a garden holds the secrets of many lives.

Hoffman’s work has been published in more than twenty translations and more than one hundred foreign editions. Her novels have received mention as notable books of the year by The New York Times, Entertainment Weekly, The Los Angeles Times, Library Journal, and People Magazine. She has also worked as a screenwriter and is the author of the original screenplay “Independence Day,” a film starring Kathleen Quinlan and Diane Wiest. Her teen novel Aquamarine was made into a film starring Emma Roberts. Her short fiction and non-fiction have appeared in The New York Times, The Boston Globe Magazine, Kenyon Review, The Los Angeles Times, Architectural Digest, Harvard Review, Ploughshares and other magazines.

Toni Morrison calls The Dovekeepers “.. a major contribution to twenty-first century literature” for the past five years. The story of the survivors of Masada is considered by many to be Hoffman’s masterpiece. The New York Times bestselling novel is slated for 2015 miniseries, produced by Roma Downey and Mark Burnett, starring Cote de Pablo of NCIS fame.

The Museum of Extraordinary Things was released in 2014 and was an immediate bestseller, The New York Times Book Review noting, “A lavish tale about strange yet sympathetic people, haunted by the past and living in bizarre circumstances… Imaginative…”

Nightbird, a Middle Reader, was released in March of 2015. In August of this year, The Marriage Opposites, Alice’s latest novel, was an immediate New York Times bestseller. “Hoffman is the prolific Boston-based magical realist, whose stories fittingly play to the notion that love—both romantic and platonic—represents a mystical meeting of perfectly paired souls,” said Vogue magazine. Click here to read more reviews for The Marriage of Opposites.

Review: ALL THE FLOWERS IN PARIS by Sarah Jio

Review:  ALL THE FLOWERS IN PARIS by Sarah JioAll The Flowers in Paris by Sarah Jio
four-stars
Published by Ballantine Books on August 13, 2019
Genres: Historical Fiction
Pages: 240
Source: Netgalley
Amazon | Barnes & Noble | The Book Depository
Goodreads

FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Netgalley. All opinions are my own..

 

 

 

 

 

 

ALL THE FLOWERS IN PARIS Review

 

Sarah Jio’s All the Flowers in Paris is a beautifully written and compelling story about family, love, survival, and the sacrifices people are willing to make for their loved ones.  Jio uses a dual timeline format to intertwine the lives of two women who each lived in the same apartment in Paris, albeit decades apart and under very different circumstances.

One timeline is set in 2009 and follows a woman named Caroline who has been in an accident and now has amnesia.  Once she is finally discharged, since no family have come to claim her, the hospital staff takes her to the apartment listed on her identification and there she slowly begins the process of piecing her life back together.  As she encounters people around the neighborhood who knew her and watches them gingerly skirt around her, Caroline realizes she must have been living a pretty sad and lonely existence.

To keep herself from dwelling on her amnesia, Caroline strikes up a friendship with the handsome chef at the restaurant she frequents.  But as their relationship blossoms, she starts to regain a few vague memories of a man and a young child but can’t figure out where they fit into her life.  Are they loved ones?  If so, where are they now?

The other timeline is set during 1943 at the height of WWII and follows a young widow named Celine who lives with her father and is raising her young daughter alone in Nazi-occupied Paris.  When a German officer takes an interest in Celine and she rebuffs him, he exposes her family’s Jewish heritage, forces their flower shop out of business, and then imprisons Celine’s father and tries to take her child from her as well.  He imprisons Celine in his apartment, but not before her daughter breaks free and sneaks in with her.  Celine now must not only fight for her own survival, but she must also hide her daughter right under the enemy’s nose in hopes that they’ll both be rescued.

One thing that really struck me while I was reading was that both Caroline’s and Celine’s storylines were compelling enough that they easily could have been standalone stories.  I enjoyed both characters immensely and was very invested in both Caroline’s plight to get her memory back and Celine’s plight to survive the Nazis and protect her family at all costs. My one complaint with the book was actually that I thought it took a little too long to actually have the storylines start moving toward one another.  They felt like standalones for a pretty big chunk of the book.  When the two timelines finally did fully intertwine, however, via a diary Caroline finds hidden in a closet in her apartment, the end result is so moving and so powerful that it had me shedding more than a few tears.

If you’re a fan of WWII historical fiction, stories set in Paris, and stories about family and the sacrifices people make for love, All the Flowers in Paris is the book for you!

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

Two women are connected across time by the city of Paris, a mysterious journal, and shocking secrets, sweeping from World War II to the present–for readers of Sarah’s Key.

When Caroline wakes up in a Paris hospital with no memory of her past, she’s confused to learn that she’s lived a sad, reclusive life for years in a sprawling apartment on the Seine. Slowly regaining vague memories of a man and young child, she vows to piece her life back together–though she can’t help but feel she may be in danger. A budding friendship with the chef of a charming nearby restaurant takes her mind off of her foggy past, as does a startling mystery from decades prior…

In Nazi-occupied Paris, young widow Celine lives a quiet life with her father, the local florist, and her daughter, Cosi. When a ruthless German officer discovers the family’s Jewish ancestry, he blackmails Celine, forcing her to become his mistress in exchange for the others’ safety. The trio plans an escape, but their mission goes horribly awry and Celine’s beloved father and daughter are sent away to a cruel fate. Initially distraught, Celine fears the worst. Yet she soon discovers that Cosi has snuck away and followed her into captivity. More motivated than ever, Celine must now fight to hide and protect the person she loves most.

Parallel timelines intersect when Caroline discovers Celine’s diary tucked away in a closet, and it is revealed that the walls of her apartment harbor dark secrets. With the help of a local student from the Sorbonne, she realizes that she may have more in common with Celine than she could ever imagine.

four-stars

About Sarah Jio

Sarah Jio is the New York Times bestselling author of ALWAYS, published by Random House (Ballantine), as well as seven other novels from Penguin Books, including, THE VIOLETS OF MARCH, THE BUNGALOW, BLACKBERRY WINTER, THE LAST CAMELLIA, MORNING GLORY, GOODNIGHT JUNE, and THE LOOK OF LOVE. Sarah is also a journalist who has contributed to The New York Times, Glamour, O, The Oprah Magazine, Glamour, SELF, Real Simple, Fitness, Marie Claire, and many others. She has appeared as a commentator on NPR’s Morning Edition. Her novels are translated into more than 25 languages. Sarah lives in Seattle with her three young boys.

Blog Tour Review: IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD OF TRUE by Susan Kaplan Carlton

Blog Tour Review:  IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD OF TRUE by Susan Kaplan CarltonIn the Neighborhood of True by Susan Kaplan Carlton
four-stars
Published by Algonquin Young Readers on April 9, 2019
Genres: Historical Fiction, Young Adult Fiction
Pages: 320
Source: Netgalley
Amazon
Goodreads

FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Netgalley. All opinions are my own..

Thanks so much to Algonquin Young Readers for inviting me to take part in their blog tour to promote Susan Kaplan Carlton’s new book, In the Neighborhood of True.  This was a wonderful read for me, so I’m thrilled to share my thoughts on it with my fellow readers.  Thanks to Netgalley for providing an ARC for me to read and review.

 

 

IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD OF TRUE Review

 

Don’t let that lovely pastel pink cover fool you into thinking Susan Kaplan Carlton’s In the Neighborhood of True is a light and fluffy read.  It is easily one of the most powerful books I’ve read so far this year.

Set in the 1950’s in Atlanta, Georgia, In the Neighborhood of True is meant to be a work of  historical fiction that explores the racism and anti-Semitism that was rampant during that time period.  While the story itself is inspired by the Atlanta Temple bombing that took place in 1958, what makes the book such a hard hitting read, however, is that it’s not just historical fiction.  It really smacked me right in the face as I was reading this book that the hate and prejudice main character Ruth Robb was witnessing in the 50’s is still alive and well today, as people now have to contend with Islamophobia and homophobia in addition to the anti-Semitism and racism that we still haven’t managed to eradicate.

I always root for an underdog and it became apparent as soon as I started reading that Ruth Robb was my underdog.  Forced to relocate to Atlanta from Manhattan after her father passes away, Ruth, with her dark eyes and wild dark curls, sticks out like a sore thumb when she first enters the land of sweet tea, magnolia balls, and debutantes and meets the blonde, perfectly-coiffed “Pastel Posse” she will be attending school with.  She very quickly realizes that she has a hard choice to make:  either embrace her Jewish background and become a social outcast or try to pass as a Christian so that she can participate in the balls and other pre-debutante events and hang with the popular crowd at school.  Ruth is torn because she feels like she’s selling out her heritage, but there’s a part of her that wants to take the path of least resistance and do what she needs to do to just fit in.

Ruth’s inner conflict is the force that drives the plot of In the Neighborhood of True and I think the author does a fantastic job of making Ruth’s struggle feel authentic and relatable.  Don’t we all want to just fit in at times and not have everything be a struggle?  In Ruth’s case though, fitting in with the ‘It’ crowd at school means hiding who she is and what she believes, and it leads to her living a double life and hoping that neither side realizes the truth, a double life that is ultimately unsustainable long-term.

Even though the story is mostly about Ruth and the difficult journey she has to make in order to find and embrace her true self, In the Neighborhood of True is so much more than just a coming of age story.  It takes a hard look at anti-Semitism and at racism, shining a spotlight on the violent, horrific hate crimes committed by the Ku Klux Klan. These acts were gut wrenching to read about and made me all the more sad that it’s still happening today. For this reason, Ruth wasn’t the only underdog I was rooting for as I was reading.  There was an active Jewish resistance movement present in the book and I was cheering them on all the way, especially since they were working tirelessly to fight anti-Semitism and racism.  As a character in the book states, “When hatred shows its face, you need to make a little ruckus.”

In the Neighborhood of True is an important and timely read, but it’s also a beautifully written story.  The author perfectly captures the nostalgic atmosphere of the South in the 1950’s – the music, the dances, the fashion and hair, the Co-Colas, and more, while at the same time, exposing that dark underbelly.  I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to anyone who enjoys historical fiction, novels with an element of social justice, or even just a good coming of age story.

 

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

A powerful story of love, identity, and the price of fitting in or speaking out.

After her father’s death, Ruth Robb and her family transplant themselves in the summer of 1958 from New York City to Atlanta—the land of debutantes, sweet tea, and the Ku Klux Klan. In her new hometown, Ruth quickly figures out she can be Jewish or she can be popular, but she can’t be both. Eager to fit in with the blond girls in the “pastel posse,” Ruth decides to hide her religion. Before she knows it, she is falling for the handsome and charming Davis and sipping Cokes with him and his friends at the all-white, all-Christian Club.

Does it matter that Ruth’s mother makes her attend services at the local synagogue every week? Not as long as nobody outside her family knows the truth. At temple Ruth meets Max, who is serious and intense about the fight for social justice, and now she is caught between two worlds, two religions, and two boys. But when a violent hate crime brings the different parts of Ruth’s life into sharp conflict, she will have to choose between all she’s come to love about her new life and standing up for what she believes.

four-stars

About Susan Kaplan Carlton

SUSAN KAPLAN CARLTON currently teaches writing at Boston University. She is the author of the YA novels Love & Haight and Lobsterland. Her writing has also appeared in Self, Elle, Mademoiselle, and Seventeen. She lived for a time with her family in Atlanta, where her daughters learned the finer points of etiquette from a little pink book and the power of social justice from their synagogue.

Early Review: LOST ROSES by Martha Hall Kelly

Early Review:  LOST ROSES by Martha Hall KellyLost Roses by Martha Hall Kelly
Also by this author: Lilac Girls
five-stars
Published by Ballantine Books on April 9, 2019
Genres: Historical Fiction
Pages: 448
Source: Netgalley
Amazon
Goodreads

FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Netgalley. All opinions are my own..

 

 

 

 

 

LOST ROSES Review

I was a huge fan of Martha Hall Kelly’s debut novel Lilac Girls, so I was thrilled to hear she has a new book, Lost Roses, coming out this year and that it actually ties in with Lilac Girls.  Where Lilac Girls featured American socialite Caroline Ferriday and was set during WWII, Lost Roses takes us back a generation and features Caroline’s mother Eliza and is set during WWI and the Russian Revolution.  While Caroline does make an appearance as a little girl in this latest novel, it is definitely Eliza’s story and can be read as a standalone.

As she did in Lilac Girls, Martha Hall Kelly chooses to focus the narrative of Lost Roses on three very different women and show not only how their lives are impacted by the harsh reality of war, but also how their lives become intertwined with one another. Eliza lives in America and is a socialite, while Sofya, who is Eliza’s best friend, is a Russian aristocrat who is related to the reigning Czar.  Varinka, the third character who is a central figure in the story, is also Russian, but she is lower class, living in poverty.

I loved the focus on these women and how the novel showcased how strong and resilient each of them could be in the face of adversity.  Eliza was especially easy to love because she’s such a loyal friend to Sofya and because she’s just so kind-hearted in general.  As she’s trying to get news about Sofya, whose letters from Russia have suddenly stopped coming, she also fully dedicates herself to helping all the Russian women who are arriving in New York.  These women have managed to escape war torn Russia, but they have nothing except the clothes on their backs.  She devotes herself to finding them shelter and employment.  I just adored her determination and her compassion.

Sofya is also easy to love because even though she’s an aristocrat, she’s clearly in an underdog role once the Revolution begins.  The aristocracy is under fire, and Sofya is just trying to survive and be the best mom she can to her young son, Max, something that’s hard to do when you fear for your life every moment of the day. I admired Sofya’s inner strength so much while reading her chapters.  As the Revolution presses on, she endures tragic losses that would have made many people give up, but instead of giving up, she manages to dig deep and find an inner strength that she didn’t think she had.  It was clear Sofya would do whatever she had to do to make sure Max was safe.

Varinka was the character I was probably the most conflicted about.  I sympathized with her so much in her earlier chapters because she is really living in dire straits.  Varinka’s life becomes entwined with Sofya and her family when they flee to their country estate, hoping they’ll be safer there, and decide they need a nanny for Max. Varinka manages to secure the job for herself, but in doing so, unknowingly brings danger right to Sofya’s doorstep.  My sympathy for Varinka wavered because she makes some very questionable decisions at times that bring harm to others, but ultimately, even though her actions frustrated me, I could understand why she made the choices she did, based on her circumstances, and because we get a very clear picture of what’s going through her head and the moral dilemmas she is facing.  Her struggles felt very authentic and human, so in the end, I still felt sympathy towards her.

In addition to these three characters and their moving stories, I was also impressed by how well-researched the story is.  It’s historical fiction based on the real-life Eliza Woolsey, and it’s clear that the author knows her subjects well. She brings Eliza to life beautifully, and she does a tremendous job of capturing the atmosphere of lawlessness and anarchy that came with the Russian Revolution. And finally, she does an equally brilliant job of showing how badly the aristocracy treated the poor, thus contributing to the onset of the Revolution in the first place.

None!

My love for Martha Hall Kelly’s style of storytelling has only grown with my reading of Lost Roses.  The writing is exquisite, and I’m just constantly fascinated by the way she shows war from the perspective of women, which in most cases, is very different from what we’re used to seeing.  In addition to being about war, Lost Roses is also a well-crafted, moving story of strength, determination, and friendship. I’d highly recommend it to anyone who enjoyed Lilac Girls, enjoys historical fiction in general, and especially to anyone who would like to know more about the Russian Revolution and the beginnings of WWI.

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

The runaway bestseller Lilac Girls introduced the real-life heroine Caroline Ferriday. This sweeping new novel, set a generation earlier and also inspired by true events, features Caroline’s mother, Eliza, and follows three equally indomitable women from St. Petersburg to Paris under the shadow of World War I.

It is 1914 and the world has been on the brink of war so many times, many New Yorker’s treat the subject with only passing interest. Eliza Ferriday is thrilled to be traveling to St. Petersburg with Sofya Streshnayva, a cousin of the Romanov’s. The two met years ago one summer in Paris and became close confidantes. Now Eliza embarks on the trip of a lifetime, home with Sofya to see the splendors of Russia. But when Austria declares war on Serbia and Russia’s Imperial dynasty begins to fall, Eliza escapes back to America, while Sofya and her family flee to their country estate. In need of domestic help, they hire the local fortuneteller’s daughter, Varinka, unknowingly bringing intense danger into their household. On the other side of the Atlantic, Eliza is doing her part to help the White Russian families find safety as they escape the revolution. But when Sofya’s letters suddenly stop coming she fears the worst for her best friend.

From the turbulent streets of St. Petersburg to the avenues of Paris and the society of fallen Russian emigre’s who live there, the lives of Eliza, Sofya, and Varinka will intersect in profound ways, taking readers on a breathtaking ride through a momentous time in history.

 

five-stars

About Martha Hall Kelly

Martha grew up in Massachusetts and now splits her time between Connecticut, New York City and Martha’s Vineyard. She worked as an advertising copywriter for many years and raised three splendid children, while researching and writing Lilac Girls, her first novel. She is excited to share the prequel, Lost Roses, coming this April and is thrilled she doesn’t have to say good-bye to Caroline and Eliza. You’ll find more info about the incredible, true stories behind both books at her website: http://www.marthahallkelly.com and clues about the prequel Lost Roses on her ever-changing Pinterest page.

Early Review: THE LOST GIRLS OF PARIS

Early Review:  THE LOST GIRLS OF PARISThe Lost Girls of Paris by Pam Jenoff
five-stars
Published by Park Row on January 29, 2019
Genres: Historical Fiction
Pages: 384
Source: Netgalley
Amazon
Goodreads

FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Netgalley. All opinions are my own..

THE LOST GIRLS OF PARIS REVIEW

Set during and immediately following WWII and inspired by real life people and historical events, Pam Jenoff’s The Lost Girls of Paris is centered around the stories of three women and a ring of British female spies.

The story begins in Manhattan in 1946.  It is here that we meet Grace Healey, who is trying to start over after losing her husband in an automobile accident.  One morning while cutting through Grand Central Station on her way to work, Grace happens across an abandoned suitcase tucked under a bench.  Only seeing the name Trigg on the case, she looks inside the case and finds a packet of twelve photographs, each photo a different woman.  Captivated by the photos, Grace impulsively takes the photos with her but leaves the suitcase behind.  When Grace thinks better of what she has done and returns to the station to put the photos back, the suitcase is gone.  When Grace hears a news report mention a woman named Eleanor Trigg, she realizes this is who the suitcase and the photos must belong to and becomes even more curious about the women in the photos and all the more determined to get the photos back to their rightful owner.  This is the start of quite an unexpected journey for Grace.

Eleanor Trigg is the second woman the story centers on. She worked for Britain’s Special Operations Executive during WWII. The SOE was a British spy ring that was operating in France to arm and help the French resistance against the Nazis. Since their male spies were being captured frequently, Eleanor proposes that they should start recruiting and training female spies to act as couriers and radio operators.  She is put in charge of the female spy ring and sets out to handpick her recruits.  Eleanor takes full responsibility for the girls she chooses and when twelve of the girls go missing, she makes it her personal mission to find out what has happened, no matter who tries to get in her way.

The third woman The Lost Girls of Paris centers on is Marie Roux, a young woman that Eleanor recruits to become a radio operator in her unit.  It is from Marie’s vantage point that we see the recruitment process, the extremely rigorous training that the girls are put through, as well as the dangers of being deployed into Nazi-occupied France.  We also get to see the spy operations up close and how adaptable agents have to be if they are going to survive.

Through the journeys of these three women, Jenoff paints an unforgettable story of courage, strength, resilience, friendship, and sisterhood.

My absolute favorite part about The Lost Girls of Paris are the well drawn characters, especially the girls who are recruited to work in the spy network.  I just found them all to be such inspiring women, and to know they’re loosely based on real people and a real ring of female spies, just blew me away.  These women are such brave warriors and I admired their determination to do their part to stop Hitler.  Marie, of course, was phenomenal, but I was also drawn to a young woman named Josie, who although she was only 17, was the fiercest among them as well as the one who was most supportive when other girls like Marie were struggling and questioning whether they were good enough to do the job required of them.  There just isn’t enough praise to do this group of women justice.

Eleanor was fantastic too.  She’s stern and rather standoffish and most of her recruits don’t especially like her, but they respect and admire her.  I liked her mother bear attitude when it came to both her girls and her mission.

A second element of the story that I enjoyed was the way the story was presented from multiple points of view.  The details of the story unfold through the eyes of Eleanor and Marie during WWII and then from Grace’s point of view after the war.  This three-pronged approach with its alternating chapters allows us to learn about all aspects of the spy ring, from recruitment and training up through deployment and the aftermath from Eleanor and Marie’s perspectives, while we backtrack from Grace’s point of view after the war to eventually learn what happened to the twelve women in those photographs.  Those different perspectives and the moving back and forth between the two timelines added so many layers to the overall story and to the journeys of all three women.

The writing style and the overall pacing of the story worked very well for me too.  Everything just flowed so smoothly and I loved the steady buildup to the girls’ deployment and then how the intensity picked up and the suspense built up once Marie and the other girls were on the ground in France.  It took me a day or so to read the first half of the book, but then I devoured the second half in just a few hours because I so desperately wanted to know how things would turn out for them all.

For me, this story was about as close to flawless as it gets. I did have a couple of minor quibbles, the first being that it didn’t make sense to me why Grace would take the photographs from the suitcase in the first place. The photos are clearly the catalyst that set the rest of the story into motion as far as figuring out who the girls are, but Grace taking the photos just seemed like such an odd thing to do.  It bothered me for a  few pages, but then I got so engrossed in the rest of the story that I let it go and as you can see by my rating, even with my questioning Grace’s action, I still thought this was a phenomenal read.

The Lost Girls of Paris is one of those books that is going to stay with me for a long time.  The writing is beautiful, the characters are unforgettable, and the fact that the story is inspired by real people and events just makes it resonate all the more.  I’d recommend The Lost Girls of Paris to anyone who enjoys historical fiction, but especially to those who are fans of Kristin Hannah’s The Nightingale and/or Martha Hall Kelly’s The Lilac Girls.

 

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

From the author of the runaway bestseller The Orphan’s Tale comes a remarkable story of friendship and courage centered around three women and a ring of female spies during World War II.

1946, Manhattan

Grace Healey is rebuilding her life after losing her husband during the war. One morning while passing through Grand Central Terminal on her way to work, she finds an abandoned suitcase tucked beneath a bench. Unable to resist her own curiosity, Grace opens the suitcase, where she discovers a dozen photographs—each of a different woman. In a moment of impulse, Grace takes the photographs and quickly leaves the station.

Grace soon learns that the suitcase belonged to a woman named Eleanor Trigg, leader of a ring of female secret agents who were deployed out of London during the war. Twelve of these women were sent to Occupied Europe as couriers and radio operators to aid the resistance, but they never returned home, their fates a mystery. Setting out to learn the truth behind the women in the photographs, Grace finds herself drawn to a young mother turned agent named Marie, whose daring mission overseas reveals a remarkable story of friendship, valor and betrayal.

Vividly rendered and inspired by true events, New York Times bestselling author Pam Jenoff shines a light on the incredible heroics of the brave women of the war, and weaves a mesmerizing tale of courage, sisterhood and the great strength of women to survive in the hardest of circumstances.

five-stars

About Pam Jenoff

Pam is the author of several novels, including her most recent The Orphan’s Tale, an instant New York Times bestseller. Pam was born in Maryland and raised outside Philadelphia. She attended George Washington University in Washington, D.C., and Cambridge University in England. Upon receiving her master’s in history from Cambridge, she accepted an appointment as Special Assistant to the Secretary of the Army. The position provided a unique opportunity to witness and participate in operations at the most senior levels of government, including helping the families of the Pan Am Flight 103 victims secure their memorial at Arlington National Cemetery, observing recovery efforts at the site of the Oklahoma City bombing and attending ceremonies to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of World War II at sites such as Bastogne and Corregidor.

Following her work at the Pentagon, Jenoff moved to the State Department. In 1996 she was assigned to the U.S. Consulate in Krakow, Poland. It was during this period that Pam developed her expertise in Polish-Jewish relations and the Holocaust. Working on matters such as preservation of Auschwitz and the restitution of Jewish property in Poland, Jenoff developed close relations with the surviving Jewish community.

Having left the Foreign Service in 1998 to attend law school at the University of Pennsylvania, Jenoff is now employed as an attorney in Philadelphia.

Pam is the author of The Kommandant’s Girl, which was an international bestseller and nominated for a Quill award, as well as The Diplomat’s Wife and Almost Home.

Early Review: THE WARTIME SISTERS

Early Review:  THE WARTIME SISTERSThe Wartime Sisters by Lynda Cohen Loigman
four-stars
Published by St. Martin's Press on January 22, 2019
Genres: Historical Fiction
Pages: 304
Source: Netgalley
Amazon
Goodreads

FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Netgalley. All opinions are my own..

 

THE WARTIME SISTERS REVIEW

Set against the backdrop of World War II, Lynda Cohen Loigman’s The Wartime Sisters is an emotionally charged story about two sisters who have a very complicated relationship filled with resentment and secrets.  Older sister Ruth is the smart one, brilliant even, but somehow ends up always taking a back seat to her younger sister, Millie, who with her auburn curls and bright blue eyes, is the apple of everyone’s eye.  Ruth loves her sister but can’t wait to move out and be on her own and out of the shadows.  She eventually marries a young man who is an officer in the Army and moves to Springfield, Massachusetts. Ruth is enjoying her new life immensely until she gets word that Millie’s own husband, a soldier, has been killed, and Millie has nowhere to go, especially since Millie and Ruth’s parents are since deceased. Reluctantly, Ruth extends the offer to Millie to come and live with her at the armory in Springfield.

Their first meeting after so many years is filled with tension and awkwardness, and it feels as though it’s only a matter of time before Ruth finds herself in Millie’s shadow all over again.  The tension continues to mount when it becomes clear that each sister is keeping something from the other.  Will their relationship be able to withstand the strain when someone from their past unexpectedly reemerges threatening to spill their secrets and shatter their lives?

The Wartime Sisters is very much a character driven story, and as such, I was glad that I found both sisters to be characters that I was sympathetic to.  It was easy to feel sympathetic towards Ruth because she spent so much of her life living in the shadow of her beautiful sister.  Nothing Ruth ever did could compete with how everyone was so obsessed with Millie’s extraordinary good looks.  Boys who came calling for Ruth found themselves attracted to Millie instead.  In many ways, the girls’ mother was responsible for much of the ensuing resentment between Ruth and Millie.  For example, when she was deciding who to give the good family heirloom jewelry to, in her mind, Millie, even though she was the youngest, was the obvious choice because of course she would marry into a rich family and have ample opportunities to wear and show off such jewelry.  How can you not feel bad for Ruth when her own mother acts like that?

On the flip side though, it’s equally easy to feel sympathetic toward Millie.  She’s a delightful girl and a devoted younger sister, and she can’t help how she looks or how people react to how she looks.  She’s in a lose-lose situation because she’s constantly incurring Ruth’s wrath over these things she can’t control.  And even though everyone around her treats her like she’s the golden child because of her looks, Millie feels that she can never measure up to Ruth because Ruth is just so smart and ambitious.  Millie feels inadequate compared to her sister.   I actually felt horrible for both sisters because they should have been there for each other, not driven apart by all of these unimportant things.

If you’ve been following my reviews for a while, you know I love stories that feature dual timelines. The Wartime Sisters is split between two locations and two timelines.  One is set in the 1930’s in Brooklyn, New York where the two sisters grew up together, while the other is set in early 1940’s in Springfield, Massachusetts at the armory where both sisters end up living and working.

I really liked this use of the dual timelines to show the origins of the resentment between the sisters and how those origins have continued to shape their lives and their interactions with one another over the years.  When Millie first arrives at the armory in 1942, for example, Ruth realizes that because she has been avoiding her sister as much as possible over the years, she barely knows her own nephew, Millie’s young son, Michael.  The author also very effectively uses the dual timeline to gradually reveal to the readers the secrets that both Millie and Ruth are hiding from one another.

While the dual timelines are an effective way to shed light on the lives of both sisters and how they’ve gotten to where they are, the author also presents the story in alternating viewpoints from each sister so that we are constantly getting both sides of the story and are allowed to make up our minds about each sister.  I liked this presentation because I think if we had only gotten the perspective of one of the sisters, rather than both, it would have been easy to find one of them less sympathetic.  The way the author chooses to present the story makes it easy to understand where each sister is coming from.

A final aspect of The Wartime Sisters I enjoyed was having the story actually set in the United States.  I’ve read a lot of historical fiction in my day and I can count on one hand the number of WWII stories I’ve come across that focus on what WWII looked like from the U.S.  I liked seeing it from this perspective and focusing a bit on the key roles that American women played in the war effort.  Millie’s perspective offered so much insight into this as her job in the armory was to build trigger mechanisms as part of the rifle assembly line.  Through Millie and her colleagues, we got to see firsthand the long hours and hard work women put in to get rifles into the hands of our soldiers.

Most of the time it felt like the historical aspect of the book took a backseat to the two sisters and their estranged relationship.  I still thoroughly enjoyed the story but a little more balance between the history/war and the more personal drama would have made this a 5 star read for me.

If you’re looking for a poignant, emotionally engaging read about family and the complicated relationships they can have, and the dangers of keeping secrets, I would highly recommend The Wartime Sisters.  The storyline is compelling, the characters are well drawn, and the historical setting is well researched.  I think fans of historical fiction and/or domestic dramas would find this read to their liking.

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

Two estranged sisters, raised in Brooklyn and each burdened with her own shocking secret, are reunited at the Springfield Armory in the early days of WWII. While one sister lives in relative ease on the bucolic Armory campus as an officer’s wife, the other arrives as a war widow and takes a position in the Armory factories as a “soldier of production.” Resentment festers between the two, and secrets are shattered when a mysterious figure from the past reemerges in their lives.

four-stars

About Lynda Cohen Loigman

Lynda Cohen Loigman grew up in Longmeadow, Massachusetts. She received a B.A. in English and American Literature from Harvard College and a law degree from Columbia Law School. Lynda practiced trusts and estates law in New York City for eight years before moving out of the city to raise her two children with her husband. She wrote The Two-Family House while she was a student of the Writing Institute at Sarah Lawrence College. The Two-Family House was chosen by Goodreads as a best book of the month for March, 2016, and was a nominee for the Goodreads 2016 Choice Awards in Historical Fiction. Lynda’s second novel, The Wartime Sisters, will be published on January 22, 2019.

Review: THE ROOM ON RUE AMELIE

Review:  THE ROOM ON RUE AMELIEThe Room on Rue Amélie by Kristin Harmel
three-half-stars
Published by Gallery Books on March 27th 2018
Genres: Historical Fiction
Pages: 400
Source: Netgalley
Amazon
Goodreads

FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Netgalley. All opinions are my own..

MY REVIEW:

Kristin Harmel’s The Room on Rue Amelie takes place in Nazi-occupied Paris in WWII and follows the lives of three people whose lives unexpectedly cross paths during the course of the war:  Ruby Benoit, an American woman living in Paris, Charlotte Dacher, a Jewish teen who lives next door to Ruby, and Thomas Clark, a British RAF pilot who is flying missions over France.

As the novel opens, Ruby meets and marries the man of her dreams, Marcel, a handsome Frenchman.  She and Marcel move to Paris and Ruby dreams of walking hand in hand in the most romantic city in the world.  Her dreams are soon shattered, however, as the Nazis invade France and everything changes, including Marcel, who becomes secretive and who also disappears for days at a time, only to come back and refuse to tell Ruby where he has been or what he is up to.  The tension and the secrecy begin to take a toll on their marriage.  When Marcel is unexpectedly killed, Ruby discovers what he has been so secretive about.  Her discovery is life-changing…

Next door to Ruby and Marcel live Charlotte Dacher and her family, who are Jewish.  They have been hearing rumors about what the Nazis are doing to Jews throughout Eastern Europe.  Sure enough, as soon as the Nazis enter Paris, they begin imposing restrictions on the Jewish people, forcing them out of work and also requiring them to sew yellow stars on all of their clothing.  Soon after, Charlotte and her family realize that all of the rumors they’ve been hearing about Hitler and the Nazis are true, as mass deportations begin and their lives are torn apart.

Thomas Clark is a British Royal Air Force Pilot.  He has joined the RAF because he wants to protect England from Hitler and the Nazis but when his mother is killed in the Blitz, Thomas begins to doubt that anything he is doing is making a difference and questions whether it’s worth it to keep fighting.  That is, until he meets Ruby and Charlotte.  The unexpected connection he makes with them reignites his will to fight and he’s more motivated than ever to defeat the Nazis.

The Room on Rue Amelie is a riveting story about resistance, courage, and defiance in the face of seemingly impossible odds, and it’s also a moving story about love, fate, family, and the sacrifices we’re willing to make for those we love.

I was drawn to The Room on Rue Amelie primarily because the synopsis indicates it would be a great read for fans of Kristin Hannah’s The Nightingale and Martha Hall Kelly’s The Lilac Girls and in many respects, I was not disappointed with the comparison.

My favorite part of The Room on Rue Amelie was its focus on all of the regular citizens of Paris and surrounding areas and the subtle and not-so-subtle ways that they defied Hitler and the Nazis.  The spirit of those people were what really made the book for me, especially those who worked on the “Escape Line” that is featured prominently throughout the novel.  The purpose of the Escape Line was to locate downed Allied pilots before the Nazis could get them and then provide them safe passage over the mountains and into Spain where they could then be sent back to rejoin their units and continue the fight against Hitler.  In many ways the Escape Line reminded me of the Underground Railroad with its many stops at different safe houses along the way and I just found it so inspiring that so many citizens were willing to risk their lives to work as part of the Resistance.

In addition to that, I also really loved the characters of Ruby and Charlotte.  They are fiercely, independent women who want to do their part to fight Hitler in any way they can, even though all of the men they encounter want to push them aside and tell them it’s too dangerous and that it’s man’s work.  I was especially drawn to Charlotte since, as a Jew, she was taking even more of a risk than Ruby was by putting herself out there.  I also loved how close Ruby and Charlotte became as the novel progressed.  They go from being mere neighbors to practically being like sisters, and their bond is wonderful to watch, especially since it contrasted so much with all of the tumult and danger that surrounded them.

The way Harmel structured the novel also appealed to me.  It’s told in alternating chapters from the viewpoints of Ruby, Charlotte, and Thomas so it allows us to watch the war progress from three very different perspectives, which I thought really gave the story a lot of depth.

As much I enjoyed the story overall, I still had a few issues with it. The first is that it was more focused on romance than I expected it to be based on the comparisons in the synopsis to The Nightingale and The Lilac Girls, which don’t really rely on romance at all.  There were a few times while I was reading when it felt like the events of WWII served merely as a backdrop to Ruby and Thomas’s thoughts about each other.  Along similar lines, I was disappointed in the character development of Thomas.  At first I enjoyed following the story from his perspective as he joined the British Royal Air Force, hoping to do his part to defeat the Nazis.  It was interesting following along through his training and as he began to fly missions in the war.  I thought Harmel did a wonderful job of showing all the conflicting emotions Thomas was feeling while in the sky shooting down other men, and then especially after his mother is killed during the Blitz, when he begins to doubt that his efforts are even making a difference in the war.

 But then he just fell sort of flat for me.  Once he meets Ruby, it seems like she’s all he ever thinks about.  He only thinks about the events of the war in terms of how they can get him back to her.  If he gets shot down again, it’s a way back to her.  If he doesn’t go back and fight this time, he can stay with her, etc.  It was a little disappointing how one-track minded he became, especially since it was insta-love between he and Ruby in the first place, which was my final issue with the story.  I guess I just don’t believe in love at first sight because I was not at all sold on the idea that such an all-consuming romance could convincingly take place between two people who interacted for only a few days before parting company.

Even though I had a few issues with The Room on Rue Amelie, I’m still glad I read it because I very much enjoyed reading about the pockets of resistance throughout France and how big of an impact that they had on the war.  Based on its focus on the relationship between Thomas and Ruby, however, I’m not sure I was really the ideal audience for this book. I think fans of romance would easily find this a 4 or 5 star book.

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

For fans of Kristin Hannah’s The Nightingale and Martha Hall Kelly’s Lilac Girls, this powerful novel of fate, resistance, and family—by the international bestselling author of The Sweetness of Forgetting and When We Meet Again—tells the tale of an American woman, a British RAF pilot, and a young Jewish teenager whose lives intersect in occupied Paris during the tumultuous days of World War II.

When newlywed Ruby Henderson Benoit arrives in Paris in 1939 with her French husband Marcel, she imagines strolling arm in arm along the grand boulevards, awash in the golden afternoon light. But war is looming on the horizon, and as France falls to the Nazis, her marriage begins to splinter, too.

Charlotte Dacher is eleven when the Germans roll into the French capital, their sinister swastika flags snapping in the breeze. After the Jewish restrictions take effect and Jews are ordered to wear the yellow star, Charlotte can’t imagine things getting much worse. But then the mass deportations begin, and her life is ripped forever apart.

Thomas Clarke joins the British Royal Air Force to protect his country, but when his beloved mother dies in a German bombing during the waning days of the Blitz, he wonders if he’s really making a difference. Then he finds himself in Paris, in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower, and he discovers a new reason to keep fighting—and an unexpected road home.

When fate brings them together, Ruby, Charlotte, and Thomas must summon the courage to defy the Nazis—and to open their own broken hearts—as they fight to survive. Rich with historical drama and emotional depth, this is an unforgettable story that will stay with you long after the final page is turned.

 

three-half-stars

About Kristin Harmel

Kristin Harmel is an international bestselling novelist whose books have been translated into numerous languages and are sold all over the world. A former reporter for People magazine, Kristin has also freelanced for many other publications, including American Baby, Men’s Health, Glamour, Woman’s Day, Travel + Leisure, and more.

Her latest novels — The Sweetness of Forgetting, The Life Intended, How to Save a Life, and When We Meet Again — are out now from Gallery Books/Simon & Schuster. Her latest, The Room on Rue Amélie, a tale of three lives that collide in Paris during World War II, is due out in March 2018 from Gallery Books/Simon & Schuster.

Kristin grew up in Peabody, Mass.; Worthington, Ohio; and St. Petersburg, Fla., and she graduated with a degree in journalism (with a minor in Spanish) from the University of Florida. After spending time living in Paris, she now lives in Orlando, Fla., with her husband and young son.

Review: THE GREAT ALONE by Kristin Hannah

Review:  THE GREAT ALONE by Kristin HannahThe Great Alone by Kristin Hannah
five-stars
Published by St. Martin's Press on February 6th 2018
Genres: Fiction, Historical Fiction
Pages: 440
Source: Library
Amazon
Goodreads

MY REVIEW:

I didn’t think there was any way Kristin Hannah could top The Nightingale, which left me sobbing by the end and is one of my all-time favorite reads, but if she didn’t top it, she came awfully darn close with her latest novel.  The Great Alone is an absolutely exquisite piece of writing.  It’s filled with realistically drawn characters, a compelling storyline that will reach out and grab all of your emotions, all in an awe-inspiring landscape.  It can be a harsh and devastating story at times as it explores dark subjects such as domestic violence and the effects of PTSD, but ultimately The Great Alone paints a beautiful portrait of hope and resiliency in the face of seemingly impossible odds.

Set in the 1970s, The Great Alone follows Ernt Allbright, his wife Cora, and their 13-year-old daughter Leni as they set out to relocate from Seattle, Washington to a remote part of Alaska.  Ernt was a POW in the Vietnam War who has struggled with day-to-day life ever since he returned home.  His behavior is erratic and volatile at times and he is often plagued by nightmares (flashbacks from his captivity) and bouts of paranoia.  Ernt has also been struggling to find and keep a job so he and his family just keep moving from place to place, hoping their luck will change.  When one of Ernt’s fallen comrades leaves him some property in Alaska, Ernt is convinced this is a sign and convinces his family that a move to Alaska is exactly what they need.  Leni and Cora are hesitant, but what we learn right away is that Cora would follow her husband to the end of the world and back if he asked. It’s just the nature of their relationship.

When they arrive in remote Kaneq, Alaska, the local residents reach out immediately and let them know that no matter how prepared they think they are to survive in Alaska, they’re dead wrong and have a lot of work to do.  Thankfully, the sense of community is so strong that the regulars don’t just dole out the advice and go about their own business.  No, they dole out the advice and then jump in and help make that advice a reality.  They get Ernt and his family about as ready for an Alaska winter as they possibly can and embrace them as new members of their pioneer community.

At first, Ernt thrives in Alaska. There’s so much to do and he loves the idea of living off the land.  But then as winter approaches and he is faced with 18 hours of darkness a day, he starts to struggle again, this time turning to violence and alcohol.  As much danger as they face outside, with the threat of the frigid temperatures and deadly wild animals, Cora and Leni soon realize that they’re in danger inside their home as well.  It becomes more and more clear that they can’t rely on Ernt to help them survive in Alaska and that this “fresh start” could end up costing them their lives.

 

This is one of those books where I could go on and on about everything I loved, but I’m just going to stick with a few highlights so that I don’t write a novel about the novel. I hope it’s not too spoilery but maybe turn back now and just know I LOVED this book if you haven’t read it yet.

Sense of Community.  I was just so touched by the way the community of Kaneq makes it their mission to make sure everyone who comes to their remote area has the tools they need to survive.  The community is filled with strong, independent, resilient people and they treat each other like family, sharing their resources and looking out for one another.  And in many cases, it’s the women of the community who are the most formidable.   Large Marge, in particular, as her name suggests, is a force to be reckoned with and one of my favorite characters in the book.  She is strong, fiercely independent, will put someone in their place in a minute if they deserve it, and she’s also hilarious.  She might just be a secondary character, but take it from me, she is fabulous!

Mother-Daughter Bond.  I thought the relationship between Cora and Leni was just beautifully written.  They share such a deep bond, first from having lived together by themselves for so long while Ernt was a POW, but then they were basically on their own once Ernt succumbed to his dark nature in Alaska.  Cora and Leni are so protective of each other – each would sacrifice themselves in order to save the other from Ernt’s violent side.  Cora wants Leni to get away so that she knows Leni is safe, but Leni won’t leave because she knows her mother will never leave her father and therefore Leni feels that she must stay to try to protect her.  In so many ways it had me screaming at the book because I wanted them both to get away before he completely lost control and killed them, but at the same time, that strong mother-daughter bond moved me to tears.

Realistically Drawn, Flawed Characters.  Hannah has such a gift for creating characters that just feel so real.  All of her characters, especially Ernt, Cora, and Leni, are messy and flawed, and even the secondary characters feel three dimensional.  There’s just so much depth to all of their personalities.  I became invested not just in Ernt’s family but in the entire Kaneq community.

The Great Alone.  I want to talk about the atmospheric quality of Hannah’s writing here.  Her descriptions of Alaska are so detailed and vivid that I was left awestruck, not just by the physical beauty of the Alaskan landscape but also by how deadly that beautiful landscape can be.  I felt the bone-chilling cold, the darkness closing in as winter approached, and the lurking bears and wolves that could attack without warning.  I truly felt like I had been transported there and like I was planning my own survival and living the pioneer life.  The Great Alone is, by far, one of the most atmospheric reads I’ve ever experienced.

 

I can’t really say that I had any issues with this book, although the scenes of domestic violence were definitely hard to take, so be forewarned.  The scenes were jarring and horrific and the portrait of a toxic relationship is frighteningly realistic.  It’s a testament to how vivid and powerful Hannah’s writing is, but man, is it disturbing!

 

It’s a brutal read at times, but The Great Alone is still one of the most beautiful books I’ve read so far this year.  It both captivated and horrified me, gutted me yet filled me with hope, and it kept me reading until the wee hours of the night because I just had to know the fate of Ernt and his family.

 

 

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS: 

Alaska, 1974.  Unpredictable. Unforgiving. Untamed.  For a family in crisis, the ultimate test of survival.

Ernt Allbright, a former POW, comes home from the Vietnam war a changed and volatile man. When he loses yet another job, he makes an impulsive decision: he will move his family north, to Alaska, where they will live off the grid in America’s last true frontier.

Thirteen-year-old Leni, a girl coming of age in a tumultuous time, caught in the riptide of her parents’ passionate, stormy relationship, dares to hope that a new land will lead to a better future for her family. She is desperate for a place to belong. Her mother, Cora, will do anything and go anywhere for the man she loves, even if it means following him into the unknown.

At first, Alaska seems to be the answer to their prayers. In a wild, remote corner of the state, they find a fiercely independent community of strong men and even stronger women. The long, sunlit days and the generosity of the locals make up for the Allbrights’ lack of preparation and dwindling resources.

But as winter approaches and darkness descends on Alaska, Ernt’s fragile mental state deteriorates and the family begins to fracture. Soon the perils outside pale in comparison to threats from within. In their small cabin, covered in snow, blanketed in eighteen hours of night, Leni and her mother learn the terrible truth: they are on their own. In the wild, there is no one to save them but themselves.

In this unforgettable portrait of human frailty and resilience, Kristin Hannah reveals the indomitable character of the modern American pioneer and the spirit of a vanishing Alaska―a place of incomparable beauty and danger. The Great Alone is a daring, beautiful, stay-up-all-night story about love and loss, the fight for survival, and the wildness that lives in both man and nature.

five-stars

About Kristin Hannah

Kristin Hannah is an award-winning and bestselling author of more than 20 novels including the international blockbuster, The Nightingale, Winter Garden, Night Road, and Firefly Lane.

Her novel, The Nightingale, has been published in 43 languages and is currently in movie production at TriStar Pictures, which also optioned her novel, The Great Alone. Her novel, Home Front has been optioned for film by 1492 Films (produced the Oscar-nominated The Help) with Chris Columbus attached to direct.

Kristin is a former-lawyer-turned writer who lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband. Her novel, Firefly Lane, became a runaway bestseller in 2009, a touchstone novel that brought women together, and The Nightingale, in 2015 was voted a best book of the year by Amazon, Buzzfeed, iTunes, Library Journal, Paste, The Wall Street Journal and The Week. Additionally, the novel won the coveted Goodreads and People’s Choice Awards. The audiobook of The Nightingale won the Audiobook of the Year Award in the fiction category.

Book Review: The Alice Network by Kate Quinn

Book Review:  The Alice Network by Kate QuinnThe Alice Network by Kate Quinn
four-half-stars
Published by William Morrow Paperbacks on June 6th 2017
Genres: Historical Fiction
Pages: 503
Source: Library
Amazon
Goodreads

MY REVIEW:

I love historical fiction that is set during WWI and WWII, so Kate Quinn’s The Alice Network was the best of both worlds for me as it has a dual time line, one of which takes place during WWI while the second takes place a couple of years after WWII.  What an incredible read this was! And the fact that the story is based on an actual real life women’s spy network that was active in France during WWI?  Amazing!  How did I not even know there was such a thing?

The Alice Network follows the story of two women, Charlie St. Clair and Eve Gardiner, and what happens when their lives unexpectedly cross paths.

Nineteen year old Charlie St. Clair is pregnant and unmarried.  The year is 1947, so as you can imagine, Charlie’s parents have deemed her situation a “problem” and so are shipping her off to a clinic in Switzerland so that it can be taken care of low-key so as not to ruin Charlie’s reputation at home.  Charlie makes the trip with her mom, and when they have a layover in England, Charlie runs away because she is on a mission of her own:  to find out what happened to her cousin Rose who had been living in Nazi-occupied France and disappeared during WWII.  Her family has presumed she is dead, but Charlie is convinced that she is still out there somewhere.  She only has one lead at this point, an address in London and a name, Evelyn Gardiner.  She has no idea who Evelyn Gardiner is or how she can possibly help her find Rose, but she is determined to follow this lead wherever it takes her.

Enter Evelyn, or Eve as she is known, Gardiner.  I’m not sure what Charlie expected when she first knocks on Eve’s door, but a snarky, stuttering, gun-toting drunk with horribly disfigured hands was probably not it.  At first Eve barely even listens to Charlie’s story about her cousin Rose and has no interest at all in helping her. That is, until Charlie mentions Le Lethe, which was the name of the restaurant where Rose was working at just prior to her disappearance, and Monsieur Rene, the owner of the restaurant.  As soon as Eve hears those names, her whole attitude abruptly shifts and she decides to help Charlie.

As Eve sets out to help Charlie, we are also taken on a second journey, this time back to 1915, where we follow Eve and see how she has ended up the way she is when Charlie meets her in 1947.  In 1915, Eve is working as an administrative assistant at a law firm in England, but she desperately wants to do something more important. Specifically, she wants to join the action in WWI fighting against the Germans.  She unexpectedly gets her chance when a visitor to the law firm, notes that Eve has qualities that would ideally suit her to working as a spy.  Namely, she appears to remain calm, cool, and collected no matter what is going on around her, and she is able to lie with a straight face.  Those qualities, coupled with a horrible stutter that make others assume she’s a bit dim-witted and therefore underestimate her.  Because of these qualities, the visitor recruits her to become a part of The Alice Network, an all-female spy network that was operating in France, right under the German’s noses.  Eve is eager to join and so we follow her through her spy training, to her primary assignment in enemy-occupied France during the war and all of the dangers it ensues, all the way through to why the names Le Leche and Monsieur Rene struck such a chord with her so many years later when Charlie St. Clair mentions them.   Eve’s journey is equal parts riveting and horrifying, and 100% life-changing.

I love when a dual timeline narrative is handled well and author Kate Quinn does a marvelous job presenting both Charlie and Eve’s stories in The Alice Network.  The chapters alternate between the 1915 and the 1947 timelines so Eve’s backstory is presented a little at a time as is Charlie’s mission to find out what happened to her beloved cousin.  Both stories are so compelling that I found myself easily pulled along, particularly because I really wanted to know what happened to turn Eve from spy extraordinaire to a bitter, disfigured woman with a major drinking problem.   I also wanted to see how exactly Eve was supposed to be the key to helping Charlie find Rose, not to mention I really wanted to know if Rose was still alive, and if so, why has she gone two years without trying to contact her family.

I also think that part of the reason the dual timeline works so well in this story is the active presence of Eve in both timelines.  She is such a fascinating and complex character, both in her younger days where she so desperately wanted to fight against the Germans and as we see her in 1947, where she is ready to take her Luger and blow the head off of anyone who so much as looks at her funny.  I adored Eve’s bigger-than-life personality and the way it just fills the pages of this story.  She made me laugh, she made me cry, and she had me scared to death for her at so many points throughout the story.

Charlie is very likeble as well, but in a different way, since we only see her at age 19.  What I liked about Charlie was her spunk and her determination, as well as her absolute devotion to her cousin, who was more like a sister to her.  Charlie’s youthful enthusiasm, combined with Eve’s fierce snark, makes them a pretty formidable team as they journey together to find Rose.

Kate Quinn also does a brilliant job of depicting the settings, both in 1915 with enemy-occupied France and then 1947, with both the French countryside and with London.  The sights and sounds felt authentic, and Quinn’s attention to detail is spot on.  As I read and followed these women, I felt myself transported to each time period and location.

I wouldn’t really call it a dislike, but I do have to admit that I found Eve’s storyline to be a lot more compelling than Charlie’s.  I loved both characters and was invested in both storylines, but Eve’s journey and the life-threatening danger she faced every moment while working as a spy was just absolutely riveting. Charlie’s story just fell a bit short in comparison.

If you’re looking for a well written, riveting read, I’d highly recommend checking out The Alice Network.  It’s sure to be a favorite for fans of historical fiction, but I think anyone who enjoys reading about strong and complex female characters would love this read as well.  Since this was a fictionalized account of the actual Alice Network, I find myself now wanting to go out and learn more about it since I had never heard of it during any of my history courses in school.

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS

In an enthralling new historical novel from national bestselling author Kate Quinn, two women—a female spy recruited to the real-life Alice Network in France during World War I and an unconventional American socialite searching for her cousin in 1947—are brought together in a mesmerizing story of courage and redemption.

1915.  In the chaotic aftermath of World War II, American college girl Charlie St. Clair is pregnant, unmarried, and on the verge of being thrown out of her very proper family. She’s also nursing a desperate hope that her beloved cousin Rose, who disappeared in Nazi-occupied France during the war, might still be alive. So when Charlie’s parents banish her to Europe to have her “little problem” taken care of, Charlie breaks free and heads to London, determined to find out what happened to the cousin she loves like a sister.

1948. A year into the Great War, Eve Gardiner burns to join the fight against the Germans and unexpectedly gets her chance when she’s recruited to work as a spy. Sent into enemy-occupied France, she’s trained by the mesmerizing Lili, the “Queen of Spies”, who manages a vast network of secret agents right under the enemy’s nose.

Thirty years later, haunted by the betrayal that ultimately tore apart the Alice Network, Eve spends her days drunk and secluded in her crumbling London house. Until a young American barges in uttering a name Eve hasn’t heard in decades, and launches them both on a mission to find the truth …no matter where it leads.

four-half-stars

About Kate Quinn

Kate Quinn is a native of southern California. She attended Boston University, where she earned a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree in Classical Voice. A lifelong history buff, she has written four novels in the Empress of Rome Saga, and two books in the Italian Renaissance, before turning to the 20th century with “The Alice Network.” All have been translated into multiple languages.

Kate and her husband now live in San Diego with two black dogs named Caesar and Calpurnia, and her interests include opera, action movies, cooking, and the Boston Red Sox.