Beth’s Book-Nook Blog

Reviews of What I’ve Been Reading….

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:

 

Leave a comment »

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:

1 Comment »

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:

1 Comment »

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)

Leave a comment »

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:

1 Comment »

Review: THE SIGNATURE OF ALL THINGS by Elizabeth Gilbert

I received THE SIGNATURE OF ALL THINGS to review through Net Galley. I had liked Gilbert’s EAT, PRAY, LOVE but I heard this novel was very different. I just loved this story which follows the life of Alma Whittaker, a highly intelligent, gifted botanist of Dutch descent, living in Philadelphia in the 1800′s.

This lengthy novel (over 500 pages) starts with young, industrious Henry Whittaker, who travels with Captain Cook and becomes a well-known and respected (and very wealthy) expert on botany. He marries an intelligent Dutch woman and together they make their home on an estate in Philadelphia and have a daughter, Alma. Alma is incredibly precocious and socially awkward but endearing. Throughout the book she is quick to point out her flaws and her shortcomings, but her intelligence and perseverance shines through. Alma is unlucky in love and is devastated by her short-lived and ill-fated marriage to a young and gifted artist. Alma travels to Tahiti to find out more about her husband’s death, and this journey of discovery takes up a large portion of the last third of her book.

I really enjoyed Ms. Gilbert’s writing. I know little about botany and was rather surprised that I found Alma’s intense and in-depth study of mosses actually rather interesting! I loved Alma’s intense scientific studies and her passion for Darwin’s theories (along with her own brilliant suppositions). The excitement of scientific inquiry and discovery from that time period (mid 1800′s) shines throughout this story. There are some sexual passages in this book, but I did not find them excessive or overly graphic. Rather, they made Alma seem more human to me.

Thanks, Net Galley and Viking for my copy! You can see it on Amazon where I am an Associate:

Leave a comment »

The Secrets of Casanova – Kindle Sale!

I recently reviewed THE SECRETS OF CASANOVA by Greg Michaels. (see  http://drbethnolan.wordpress.com/2014/01/28/review-the-secrets-of-casanova-by-greg-michaels/ )

It’s currently on sale for kindle at 99 cents! Bargain!!

(link is to Amazon where I am an Associate)

Leave a comment »

Review: THE SECRETS OF CASANOVA by Greg Michaels

I was recently approached to read and review Greg Michaels’ new novel: THE SECRETS OF CASANOVA. It sounded fun and interesting (and to be honest, I know very little about the real Casanova – a great lover, right? And always makes me think of Greg Brady in the Brady Bunch?). This was a rollicking, fun, adventure story, with a little history and a lot of fiction thrown in.

Giacomo Casanova was a real person who lived in the mid to late 1700′s (see Wikipedia at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Giacomo_Casanova). He was known for having many affairs with women and this reputation continues today when we call someone “a Casanova”. However, he was an interesting figure, intelligent and well-known, who wrote many works (best known is his autobiography), was imprisoned in Venice, lived in Paris, and knew many famous people of his era.
Michaels makes Casanova come alive as a flesh and blood man – part swindler, part earnest young man. He’s a bit of a lovable rogue who shows his more sensitive side in his relationships. He is on a quest for a holy relic, complete with “treasure map”, and his adventures take him and his companions across Europe with various close calls along the way.

As I read this book, I thought of what a fun movie it would make! I kept seeing Robert Downey Junior in the lead (call me a child of the 80′s). If you like swashbuckling adventure, you would probably like this book. There are some sexual scenes (not many, but they are there) or I would suggest it to the younger crowd as well.

I wasn’t sure by the ending if we might be hearing more from Mr. Michaels and Casanova. I would look forward to seeing his adventures continue!

You can see this book on Amazon where I am an Associate. Right now it is priced for Kindle at $3.99. Thanks for the opportunity to share your book, Greg!

1 Comment »

Review: THE INVENTION OF WINGS by Sue Monk Kidd

Oh my. This is a book I can hardly do justice to. It will truly be on my “Best of 2014″ list this year!

I loved Sue Monk Kidd’s THE SECRET LIFE OF BEES (and I enjoyed her other two books as well), so I was very excited to get an ARC of her new publication THE INVENTION OF WINGS from Net Galley.

This historical novel tells the story of Sarah Grimké, a young girl of Charleston, SC. Starting in the 1830′s. Sarah receives a personal slave, a young girl named Handful (Hetty), as a gift for her eleventh birthday, and upsets her parents by trying to grant her her freedom. Young Sarah dreams of being a lawyer. Plain and intelligent, she doesn’t fit with the Southern belles of her peer group. She forms a friendship with Handful and almost immediately gets them both into serious trouble when she teaches Handful to read. The story follows Sarah, and Handful, as they grow up and become adults. Sarah evolves (along with her younger sister Angelina) into a passionate abolitionist and worker for women’s rights. Handful and her mother dream of one day being free.

While I loved this story, I was absolutely amazed to discover that Sarah Grimké and her sister Angelina were real people and that Sue Monk Kidd had based her novel on historical facts. How had I never heard of them?? This is a story that must be told. If you enjoy historical fiction, women’s studies, Civil War genre, and/or basically strong female protagonists who are based in reality, then you will enjoy this well-written and well-researched book.

Do yourself a favor and read this book!

You can see this book on Amazon where I am an Associate. Thanks, Net Galley and Viking, for my copy! Looks like it’s a pick for Oprah’s Book Club, too.

1 Comment »

Review: THE DEAD IN THEIR VAULTED ARCHES by Alan Bradley

If you read me, you know I LOVE the Flavia de Luce mysteries – focusing on the humorous exploits and detective work of a precocious eleven-year-old chemist in the 1950′s British countryside.  Book 5 is coming out in January and I was thrilled beyond belief to get it from Net Galley (adding to my thrill was a tweet from Flavia herself saying she hoped I liked it!).

THE FOLLOWING CONTAINS SOME SPOILERS!

THE DEAD IN THEIR VAULTED ARCHES takes up where the last book left off: Flavia and her family are notified that her long-lost mother, Harriet, has been found and is heading home. However, when Flavia’s family arrives at the train station, it is Harriet’s body that is returning home, not Harriet herself. How exactly did Harriet die on her mountain hiking expedition? And who was with her? What was she hiding? Who is the mysterious young man who whispers to Flavia and then has an “accident” and falls under the oncoming train? And why is the great man, Churchill, himself speaking to Flavia in what appears to be code??Flavia sets about getting to the bottom of mystery of her mother’s death; but first she seeks to use her beloved chemistry in an attempt to bring her mother back to life.

Once again, I enjoyed Flavia’s exploits and especially her uniquely intellectual voice and dry witticisms that had me laughing out loud while reading! Flavia’s attempt to bring her mother back was so poignant – there is hardly anything so heart-wrenching as a young child who yearns for their deceased mother. This time the de Luce family is shown in more of their moral and emotional complexity, and you come to know them as a family torn asunder from the loss of Harriet. Along with this is a rollicking mystery of the family’s involvement with WWII, and a finale that makes the reader think that while we will hear more from Flavia, it won’t be same as when she is toodling around the family estate.

While the first book in this series remains my most favorite, I recommend this to readers of the series. I find the stories follow best if you read them in order.

It comes out next month, but you can pre-order on Amazon where I am an Associate:

Thank you, Net Galley and Delacorte Press, for my copy!!

1 Comment »

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 254 other followers