Beth’s Book-Nook Blog

Reviews of What I’ve Been Reading….

Review: GRAND CENTRAL: Original Stories of Postwar Love and Reunion

I purchased a kindle edition of GRAND CENTRAL when I saw that it was short stories by some of my favorite authors. The author list includes (a la Amazon):

Melanie Benjamin, New York Times bestselling author of The Aviator’s Wife

Jenna Blum, New York Times bestselling author of Those Who Save Us

Amanda Hodgkinson, New York Times bestselling author of 22 Britannia Road

Pam Jenoff, bestselling author of The Ambassador’s Daughter

Sarah Jio, New York Times bestselling author of Blackberry Winter

Sarah McCoy, New York Times bestselling author of The Baker’s Daughter

Kristina McMorris, New York Times bestselling author of The Pieces We Keep

Alyson Richman, bestselling author of The Lost Wife

Erika Robuck, bestselling author of Call Me Zelda

Karen White, New York Times bestselling author of The Time Between

Each story takes place in Grand Central Station in NYC just after WWII and happens on the same day. One thing I loved was the overlap of stories – characters in one story will see or hear characters from another story.  Some of these stories I liked more than others. Some I felt left you hanging, which is never how I want to end a story. Most though, were interesting little microcosms of life at that time, my favorites being the first story and the last one!

One of the best things about short stories is that you can read them in a short period, so they are perfect for an office visit wait, a wait in the airport, etc. I chose to read one each night before bed.

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

 

 

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Review: FLIGHT OF THE SPARROW: A NOVEL OF EARLY AMERICA by Amy Belding Brown

I have met Amy Belding Brown through Orchard House in Concord (home of the Alcotts), and I really enjoyed her MR. EMERSON’S WIFE, so I was more than thrilled when I won a copy of FLIGHT OF THE SPARROW through the blog “Louisa May Alcott Is My Passion”!

FLIGHT OF THE SPARROW tells the story of Mary Rowlandson, an early Massachusetts settler who was kidnapped and held as a slave by Nipmuc Indians during the late 1600’s and King Philip’s War.

After a violent (and graphic) attack on their farm, during which many family members are killed, Rowalndson and her three children are taken captive and made to walk many miles, serving as slaves. Her youngest daughter, Sarah, has been seriously injured during the attack and she dies of her injuries not long afterwards. Mary, though devastated, stays strong, however, and fights to keep alive as the Indians suffer through late winter starvation and freezing temperatures. Within weeks, Mary has adjusted to the Native American way of life and actually begins to enjoy it. Being a Puritan, her role as a woman is narrowly defined, with little freedom of thought or action. As an Indian, Mary enjoys much more personal space and freedome in nature. Her two remaining children have adjusted as well, and her son in particular has come to love the Indian way of life. Complicating things is Mary’s relationship with a “Praying Indian”, John Painter. He helps her and becomes a friend, but it is not long before the two realize they are attracted to each other,causing Mary to struggle with her feelings about herself as a married woman and as a Christian. After several months with the Indians, Mary and her two children are ransomed back to her husband and she re-enters English life. However, Mary is changed, and so are her children. Will they ever fit back into their former lives, or have they “become Indian”?

I really enjoyed this book! Belding Brown is a wonderful writer. Her stories flow naturally, and you can easily visualize the setting and action. I had a distinct advantage in visually, however, as Mary Rowlandson was kidnapped from Lancaster, which is the town next to me (actually our town was part of Lancaster originally). I could easily imagine their trail, and then the trips into Boston and Concord. What was also fascinating about this book was Mary’s re-entry into English life. Almost the last third of the book was devoted to this, depicting Mary’s inner turmoil with accepting and adjusting to the Puritan ways again and a fairly loveless marriage. I know this is historical FICTION, so I don’t expect every bit of it to be true, however, Ms. Brown is an acute researcher, so I assume that much of the story is based on the facts she found.

This was a wonderful read and I highly recommend it to those who enjoy reading of this time period.

Thank you, Susan, for my copy from your blog!

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

 

 

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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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