Beth’s Book-Nook Blog

Reviews of What I’ve Been Reading….

Review: EVERGREEN by Rebecca Rasmussen

I was a big fan of Rebecca Rasmussen’s first book, THE BIRD SISTERS, so I was excited to see that she had written another novel. I was also able to get an ARC through Edelweiss (yeah!).

EVERGREEN follows three generations of women, starting in the 1930′s in Minnesota. Eveline is a young and naive bride who comes to live with her German immigrant husband in the backwoods. She grows to love the woods, nature, and her baby boy, but sadly an unspeakable act of violence occurs when her husband is away, and her life is changed forever.

Naamah is the child that Eveline abandons at an orphanage. Sadly, Naamah suffers much abuse at the hands of the zealot nun who runs the orphanage. When she is fourteen, she leaves to be on her own, scraping a living from working at the lumber camps as a prostitute.

Eveline’s son, Hux, learns of his sister’s existence as his mother is dying, and makes it his quest to find her and be her family. What follows is a heartbreaking story of a kind-hearted man who tries to tame a solitary girl who is pretty much feral. The last section of the novel is told from Naamah’s daughter’s perspective.

I really enjoyed this novel! My favorite section was  Eveline’s story, and while I’m sure it was necessary to move on with the plot, I missed reading from her perspective again while she was older or dying. How much did she think about that baby girl and did she ever look for her? I would have liked to have read that. I also liked how this novel ended on a note of self-acceptance and reconciliation.

Throughout, Ms. Rasmussen’s writing is so lovely and flowing. It’s an easy read and one that sucks you in, not ending on a happy note, per say, but a positive one.

You can see EVERGREEN on Amazon where I am an Associate. Thanks, Edelweiss and Random House, for my copy!

 

Here’s Rebecca chatting about her book (Norwegian edition) via You Tube -

 

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Review: The Prime Minister’s Secret Agent by Susan Elia MacNeal

Maggie Hope is at it again!

I’ve loved all the books in this series and was so excited to see that a new one was out this month (and doubly excited that I got it from Net Galley!).

In this installment, Maggie is dealing with depression and trying to decide what further paths to take with her life. She adopts a rather unique cat. She tries to get out more. She throws herself into her job as a trainer at her spy training camp. Something is just missing. Then mystery finds her again when three ballerinas, including her dear friend Sarah, are taken ill and two die. Who or what has poisoned them? Added to this are interspersed chapters of Maggie’s mother, German spy Clara Hess, who is being interrogated and whose execution is planned. Also, there is a subplot following the planning for and bombing of Pearl Harbor.

A lot is going on in this book, though I didn’t find that overly confusing. My favorite chapters, though, were the ones with Maggie in them. I want her to have her adventures, but also to find happiness. When the book ended, I could see where the next one would start up, so this book seemed less like a separate story than part of a larger work in several volumes.

I love reading about WWII and I really enjoy Maggie’s character, so I’ve recommended these books to several friends. I look forward to the next book in this series, which I’m pretty sure is in the works!

You can see this book on Amazon where I am an Associate:

 

 

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YA Review: CONVERSION by Katherine Howe

I had heard about this book, but couldn’t get my hot little hands on a copy. Then at BEA I had the chance to get a SIGNED copy from Katherine Howe herself! I was quite excited and couldn’t wait to read it when I returned.

Pub Day is finally here for this great book (July 1).

CONVERSION centers on the character of teenager Colleen Rowley, a senior in high school at a prestigious private girls’ school. One day a classmate falls ill with mysterious symptoms, and soon several classmates are sick: all with odd symptoms, all seniors. Between the CDC, the community, and the media, Colleen’s school becomes a bit of a circus. Then Colleen receives texts from an unknown sender urging her to read Arthur Miller’s “The Crucible”.  What is going on? And can Colleen figure it out before she, too, falls ill?

I really enjoyed reading this book! Interspersed between Colleen’s story are chapters from the 1700′s and Ann Putnam, one of the girls from the Salem Witch Trials, confesses her story of the Salem girls to her minister. Ann Putnam is a critical character, and in modern day, Colleen herself is studying Ann as a key to what actually went on in 1692 and what is happening now. There are some other side plots as well, though they all tie together, with the biggest one being one of Colleen’s friend’s heartbreak over an affair with a teacher.

CONVERSION has a tension which builds and builds, until things truly start to spiral out of control. I thought this was a great read for both older YA and for adults. If you have a daughter in high school, you should read this book, just to remind yourself what a pressure cooker that time can be. A lot of Colleen’s pressure is self-imposed (e.g. the quest to be valedictorian), and reading this reminded me of what that felt like, even though I graduated 30 years ago.

Highly recommended! I’m so glad I was able to get this at BEA and was able to meet Ms. Howe. She herself is descended from those involved in the Salem Witch Trials, and history lives on in her veins and in her work.

See this book on Amazon where I am an Associate:

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Review: CHINA DOLLS by Lisa See

I’ve been anxiously awaiting the publication of Lisa See’s latest novel, CHINA DOLLS. If you read me, you know I LOVE her works and have read them all. I particularly enjoy her historical fiction. CHINA DOLLS downloaded to my Kindle when it came out a few weeks ago, and  I was so excited the day I turned on my Kindle and there it was! Ms. See hit it out of the ballpark again with this novel, telling the story of three young Asian women during WWII who are entertainers/dancers on the night club scene in San Francisco.

The story starts with Grace, one of the three voices portrayed in the novel. Grace has arrived in California from Plain City, Ohio, and she plans on being a star. Grace is escaping an abusive homelike, and she is sure her dancing talents and determination will be enough to get her to stardom. Next she meets Helen, who is still suffering from a past tragedy, and who lives with her family in a compound in Chinatown. Helen is pretty much only going through the motions of life, when she spontaneously decides to join Grace in her auditioning quest. At the dance call, they meet Ruby, a tough but sparkly young woman from Hawaii who is secretly hiding the fact that she is Japanese, not Chinese. The three become fast friends and vow to never let anything come between them.

Over the course of the book, the three women have a lot of trials and tribulations. Falling in love, lost love, betrayal, back-stabbing, and other relationship woes strain their friendships, and when the Japanese bomb Pearl Harbor, Ruby fears for her safety and is eventually arrested and sent to a detainment camp for Japanese Americans. The three girls mature into women who have to constantly balance their own needs with the needs of their families and their relationships and dance careers. The three strike a tentative balance among themselves, with the bond of friendship and love being the foundation on which they move forward with their lives.

I just LOVED this book. Lisa See is an excellent writer. The story was engaging, but her writing itself flows seamlessly. Her depictions are so true to life, and she is spot on in how she portrays women and their relationships. I particularly liked how this story was told through three distinct voices.

I cant’ wait to see what’s next from this gifted author!

You can see this book on Amazon where I got mine and where I am an Associate:

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Review: ECHOES OF MERCY by Kim Vogel Sawyer

I received a copy of this book through Blogging for Books, a Christian media outlet. In this story, which is part historical and part romance, Carrie Lang goes undercover to investigate a suspicious death at Dinsmore ‘s Chocolate Factory. Carrie is an ardent advocate of child labor laws, and she is concerned as well about the welfare of the child workers at the factory. She befriends a co-worker (the owner’s son in disguise) and also takes on the care of three orphaned siblings. Carrie is a devout Christian and a strong personality. Her determination and faith will see her through this mystery!

I enjoyed reading this novel. Ms. Sawyer is a new author to me, but it seems she has several published and popular works in the Christian genre. I find reading Christian romances very refreshing and light. They always end on a positive note and they give a hopeful and faith-filled message. This one was extra fun as it was historical as well.

Thank you, Water Brook Multnomah, for my copy!

You can see this book on Amazon where I am an Associate:

 

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Review: REVONTULI by Andrew Eddy

I received a kindle copy of REVONTULI by Andrew Eddy to review from my friends at Booktrope. It was sent to me because I had liked THE LIGHT IN THE RUINS by Chris Bohjalian last year (that was one of my fave books of 2013!).

In REVONTULI, it is WWII and the Germans are occupying the part of Scandinavia known as the Finnmark. The villagers are hardy folks, used to long winters and cold country, and are a blend of Sami and Norwegian culture (just a note- before this book, I had not heard of Sami culture. I looked it up and I have always seen it referred to as “Laplander” though apparently this is a negative term.) The Sami in this book are reindeer herders and semi-nomadic. As war touches the village, teenager Marit is caught between having sympathy for the Bosnian prisoners of war that are being held nearby and her burgeoning friendship with a young German officer, Hans, who boards at her house. The war continues, as does their friendship, and as Hans becomes like a member of Marit’s family, the lines between war and peace blur for her, and the story evolves to a life-changing climax for young Marit.

Throughout the book, the point of view toggles from current day Bavaria and Marit visiting there (she is quite elderly now) and her village growing up when she is seventeen. I really enjoyed this read! WWII is one of my favorite historical genres and this took place in an area that was new to me. Poor Marit was torn between her family’s culture, loyalty to her country, her friends, and her love for Hans. Her actions cause her to have to grow up quickly in a world that is rapidly changing.

Highly recommended to my readers who enjoy this genre! Thank you, friends at Booktrope for my copy! I will look for more forthcoming novels from Mr. Eddy.

You can see this book on Amazon where I am an Associate:

 

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Review: FALLEN BEAUTY by Erika Robuck

I recently won a free copy of Erika Robuck’s new book FALLEN BEAUTY, about Edna St. Vincent Millay. I had loved Erika’s CALL ME ZELDA last year, and also enjoyed meeting her at the Concord Bookshop, so this book was special to me!

FALLEN BEAUTY tells the story of Laura Kelley, a young woman who, in the 1920′s,  falls in love and takes some chances which unfortunately end up with her being single, poor, and with a young daughter to raise. Just outside of Laura’s small New York hometown lives the larger-than-life poet, Edna St. Vincent Millay and her husband. Millay lives a grandiose and bohemian lifestyle and when her path crosses with Laura’s, she becomes almost obsessed with making Laura part of her life. Laura resists and staunchly perseveres in her harsh and mostly isolated reality, making the best life she can for her beloved little girl. Millay continues to reach out to her. In times their lives intertwine and the plot winds to a shattering climax and conclusion.

I really enjoyed this book. Erika is a really great writer and her stories flow so easily. I liked the (fictional) character of Laura and kept rooting for her to have some sort of lucky break, and I loved the themes of redemption that came throughout the story. I found Millay’s character fascinating as it was closely based on real facts. This was a woman who definitely worked hard and played hard! She wore her emotions right under the surface and was ruled by her physical needs and emotional weaknesses. Truly this was a fascinating portrait of a genius mind.

I highly recommend this novel if you enjoy historical fiction and/or reading about Millay.

Thank you for my copy, Erika! I look forward to your next book. I even have a guess of whom it might be about!

You can see this book on Amazon where I am an Associate:

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Review: THE GIRL YOU LEFT BEHIND by Jo Jo Moyes

Recently I received a copy of THE GIRL YOU LEFT BEHIND as a gift. I had heard of Jo Jo Moyes, but never read her books before. This was a riveting and touching story, part current day/part historical fiction, centering around the portrait of a young woman from WWI.

In 1917 France, Sophie LeFevre is trying to keep her family’s inn going while the German occupation occurs. Her artist husband Edouard is gone to fight at the front, leaving Sophie, her sister, and her younger brother alone. Sophie and her sister must feed the German soldiers each night, and one evening the Commandant expresses an interest in the portrait of Sophie that her husband has painted. As time passes, Sophie becomes desperate to learn of her husband’s well-being, and risks everything she has to save him.

Meanwhile, in current day London, Liv Halston is now the owner of Sophie’s portrait. She is grieving the untimely death of her young husband, and the picture was a gift from him. However, the LeFevre family is looking for the portrait and want it returned. Classed as stolen during the war, they feel entitled to have it returned, while Liv is sure that not only did they obtained it legally, but that she has a connection to Sophie the others don’t. Thus begins a battle over the rightful ownership of the picture of “The Girl You Left Behind”. By the end, Sophie’s story is told and Liv’s story has unfolded and taken a new direction.

I really enjoyed this story! I love historical fiction, and having it interspersed with modern day was an effective way to tell the story. It has some mystery, some history, and some romance.

I’ve never read other books by Ms. Moyes, but I will look for more.

You can see this book on Amazon where I am an Associate:

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Review: THE VALLEY OF AMAZEMENT by Amy Tan

Amy Tan has done it again.

I believe I’ve read all of her books, so I made sure to purchase THE VALLEY OF AMAZEMENT last fall when it came out. I was a little backlogged with due reviews, so I read it in pieces over time (plus it is over 600 pages!). I loved this historical fiction, set in the past and also tied to the present, of turn of the 20th century Shanghai.

In the early 1900′s, Violet is the spoiled, young, half-American/half-Asian daughter of Lulu, the owner of a popular courtesan house in Shanghai. Violet is in the middle of everything, and though young, has a keen eye to the ways of courting done by the girls and her mother’s sharp business practices. A terrible event separates them, however, and Lulu goes to America thinking Violet is dead, while Violet is sold to a courtesan house and her virginity auctioned off when she is fifteen. The bulk of the story is Violet’s telling of her life and loves, from her childhood to her time as a courtesan, to her first love, her beloved husband and child (who is taken from her), and her disastrous second marriage. Violet is a smart woman and strives to maintain her dignity and her independence. Along with her lifelong friend, they struggle to break free of their oppression, and Violet dreams of being reunited with both her mother and her child.

While some of this story is also told from Lulu’s point of view, particularly the story line of how she met Violet’s father, most is told through Violet. I loved the character of Violet, who was plucky and fierce and courageous. I found the details of life as a courtesan quite interesting – I had always considered courtesan and prostitute as synonymous, but this story showed the subtle intricacies of being a courtesan, as well as the cultural differences and expectations of Chinese versus American experiences. I also learned of the political climate of the time (which I knew little about). One thing I would have preferred, though, was to have Lulu’s back story earlier in the book (it came in the last third and thus felt anachronistic to me). Also, after so much story, the ending seemed to wrap up rather quickly.

If you like Amy Tan’s writing, and have some time, then I recommend THE VALLEY OF AMAZEMENT.

I got mine from Amazon, where you can get yours, too! (Note: I am an Amazon Associate)

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Review: MOTHERLAND by Maria Hummel

I came across a review of MOTHERLAND in a magazine while I was getting my hair done a few weeks back. It looked intriguing, so I purchased it for my kindle. MOTHERLAND tells the story of a German family during WWII. Frank Kappus is a doctor who is sent into military service for Germany, helping soldiers who have suffered traumatic physical injuries. At home is his new young wife, Liesl, and his three little boys, the oldest of which is ten. Frank’s first wife died in childbirth, and the youngest boy is only a baby. Liesl tries to keep things going on the home front, while faced with dwindling rations, refugees moving in, a recalcitrant youngster, and most frightening, their middle son developing odd behaviors due to lead poisoning, with no ideas as how to help him. When doctors suggest he be institutionalized, Liesl begs her husband to come home.

This book was such an interesting read to me, largely in part because I don’t think I’ve ever read a book that presented a Nazi family as sympathetic. Generally, my WWII books have focused on the Jewish experience or the American home front. This book is loosely based on the author’s father’s experience as a young boy. Liesl does not spend much time thinking about politics, the war, or other’s experience as she is so wrapped up in just keeping going day to day. Frank gets some inkling that atrocities could be happening at a nearby concentration  camp, but he writes such ideas off as too incredible and does not investigate. I think that I have always struggled with the question: “How could the Holocaust have happened?? What were people doing that all these terrible deaths occurred right under people’s noses??” This novel in part answers that: many citizens were so caught in just surviving a day to day existence that they did not take the time to think about anything else. They followed the rule of their country without much questioning and perhaps with even thinking that some of the issues did not apply to or affect them.

This story was well-written but heart-breaking. The war pretty much destroys this family, and they are irrevocably scarred afterwards. These characters and the bleak grayness of this book stayed with me long after I was done reading. A good read, but a somber one.

You can see this book on Amazon where I got mine:

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