Monday, May 17, 2021

Review: The Yellow Bird Sings by Jennifer Rosner

 Title: The Yellow Bird Sings

Author: Jennifer Rosner 

Format: Hardcover

Publisher: Flatiron Books

Publish Date: March 30, 2020

Source: Library

What's the Story?:

From "As Nazi soldiers round up the Jews in their town, Róza and her 5-year-old daughter, Shira, flee, seeking shelter in a neighbor’s barn. Hidden in the hayloft day and night, Shira struggles to stay still and quiet, as music pulses through her and the farmyard outside beckons. To soothe her daughter and pass the time, Róza tells her a story about a girl in an enchanted garden:

The girl is forbidden from making a sound, so the yellow bird sings. He sings whatever the girl composes in her head: high-pitched trills of piccolo; low-throated growls of contrabassoon. Music helps the flowers bloom.

In this make-believe world, Róza can shield Shira from the horrors that surround them. But the day comes when their haven is no longer safe, and Róza must make an impossible choice: whether to keep Shira by her side or give her the chance to survive apart.

Inspired by the true stories of Jewish children hidden during World War II, Jennifer Rosner’s debut is a breathtaking novel about the unbreakable bond between a mother and a daughter. Beautiful and riveting, The Yellow Bird Sings is a testament to the triumph of hope―a whispered story, a bird’s song―in even the darkest of times.

My Two Cents:

"The Yellow Bird Sings" is one of those books that I missed when it initially came out (March 2020, when the pandemic was just beginning to really shake everything down). I had heard so many good things about it and so when I finally picked it up, I was kicking myself that it took so long for me to get to it. It is a great story of resilience and love.

In the book, Roza and her young daughter, Shira, are on the run from the Nazis. They take refuge in the hay loft of a neighbors' house but feel anything but safe. It's a hard existence having to be silent all the time and deal with the elements. Roza finds herself drawing the unwelcome attentions of the husband of the family but all of these tradeoffs are better than what they could face at the hands of the Nazis.

Eventually hiding isn't enough and Roza makes a decision that may save both her and Shira but it will mean being torn apart. As a mother of two daughters, it is so hard to imagine having to make the choices that Roza makes throughout the book but when you're talking about the boundless love of a parents, I see her motivation. The way the author lays out the choices was truly wrenching. The writing of the book was so amazing and really pulled me in.

The detail in the book was really great. I was struck by the way that both the conditions in the barn and the description of all of the danger Roza faced were captured in the book. You can smell the dirty hay. You can feel how hurt Roza's feet must have been. You can clearly picture how lost Shira felt without her mother.

This was a heart-wrenching story with one of the best stories I've read in a long time!


Tuesday, April 6, 2021

Review: Finding Napoleon by Margaret Rodenberg

Title:  Finding Napoleon

Author: Margaret Rodenberg

Format: ARC

Publisher: She Writes Press

Publish Date: April 6, 2021 (Today!)

Source: Author

What's the Story?:

From "With its delightful adaptation of Napoleon Bonaparte's real attempt to write a novel, Finding Napoleon offers a fresh take on Europe's most powerful man after he's lost everything. A forgotten woman of history--Napoleon's last love, the audacious Albine de Montholon--narrates their tale of intrigue, passion, and betrayal.

After the defeated Emperor Napoleon goes into exile on tiny St. Helena Island in the remote South Atlantic, he and his lover, Albine de Montholon, plot to escape and rescue his young son. Banding together African slaves, British sympathizers, a Jewish merchant, a Corsican rogue, and French followers, they confront British opposition--as well as treachery within their own ranks--with sometimes subtle, sometimes bold, but always desperate action.
When Napoleon and Albine break faith with one another, ambition and Albine's husband threaten their reconciliation. To succeed, Napoleon must learn whom to trust. To survive, Albine must decide whom to betray.

Two hundred years after Napoleon's death, this elegant, richly researched novel reveals a relationship history conceals."

My Two Cents:

"Finding Napoleon" is the story of Napoleon Bonaparte as he is defeated and exiled to the small island of St. Helena in the south Atlantic. While he is able to take some of his allies to include his mistress, Albine, and her husband, he is torn from his beloved son, who remains with his cruel wife, Marie Louise. This is a good book infused with a lot of historical detail, a treat for my fellow history lovers.

Before reading this book, I was not really familiar with Napoleon's time on St. Helena. I had read of him getting exiled but I don't believe I had read anything about what his time was like there. In fact, until I read this book, I don't think I had ever looked at where St. Helena was on the map and just how far from home Napoleon was. Once on St. Helena, Napoleon is under the ever watchful eye of the British soldiers who want to prevent another escape like Napoleon carried out on Elba. Napoleon is down but not out and is constantly plotting ways to make his escape and get back to the life he knew and the son he loves.

St. Helena comes with its own cast of characters that Napoleon and Albine interact with. I particularly loved Betsy, a young teen who fancies having Napoleon as a friend, and Tobyson, a young boy who always seems to be with Betsy and represents the tension between keeping slaves and allowing for more free men on the island. Although they are secondary characters, every scene with Betsy and/or Tobyson were some of my favorites. They add a lot of light to the book.

The book is partially narrated by Albine, which was a really interesting choice. The switching narration between third person and first person when Albine is narrating worked really well and breathed a lot of interest into the book.  Another thing that I didn't realize until reading this book is that Napoleon wrote his own fictional book. I loved the inclusion of the "Clisson" passages in the book. You get to see another facet of Napoleon through his writing, which helps to bring some humanity to this larger than life man.

The writing of the book is really good. I loved the way the author wrote both the primary and secondary characters and wove them into the narrative. The book has some great bits of world building, particularly once Napoleon arrives on St. Helena. You can imagine what it looks like and what it smells like. The detail is really rich and wonderful.

I really enjoyed this debut novel and can't wait to see what Rodenberg writes next!


Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Review: Paris in Ruins by M.K. Tod

 Title: Paris in Ruins 

Author: M.K. Tod 

Format: eBook

Publisher: Heath Street Publishing

Publish Date: March 30, 2021 (Today!) 

Source: Author

What's the Story?:

From "Paris 1870. Raised for a life of parties and servants, Camille and Mariele have much in common, but it takes the horrors of war to bring them together to fight for the city and people they love.

A few weeks after the abdication of Napoleon III, the Prussian army lays siege to Paris. Camille Noisette, the daughter of a wealthy family, volunteers to nurse wounded soldiers and agrees to spy on a group of radicals plotting to overthrow the French government. Her future sister-in-law, Mariele de Crécy, is appalled by the gaps between rich and poor. She volunteers to look after destitute children whose families can barely afford to eat.

Somehow, Camille and Mariele must find the courage and strength to endure months of devastating siege, bloody civil war, and great personal risk. Through it all, an unexpected friendship grows between the two women, as they face the destruction of Paris and discover that in war women have as much to fight for as men.

War has a way of teaching lessons—if only Camille and Mariele can survive long enough to learn them.

My Two Cents:

 In 1870, Paris is being torn apart in a fight between self-determination and the foreign Prussian Army seeking to bend the French to their will. The gorgeous city is now a place of chaos and destruction, beset by violence and chaos. With the advent of war, people from different walks of life are on much more equal footing: each pulled into a fight for survival. Mariele and Camille were both born to a life of luxury but the war rips all of that away. Both of them will be forced to fight for their survival and for those that they love. Will they be able to rise to the occasion?

Both of the heroines at the center of the book are fascinating! Both of them are willing to leave their extremely comfortable lives in order to find some way to contribute to their country. Camille finds herself tending to the wounded in a theater-turned-hospital, run by none other than famous actress Sarah Bernhardt. Camille is also called into service as a spy to watch the communards. Mariele works hard to save the children orphaned by the war. Camille and Mariele will be called on over and over again to show what they are made of and both will discover that they are made of tougher stuff than they realized. These are two heroines that you can stand up and cheer for!

Paris is one of those places where although I have never been, I want to read about every chance I get. The Franco-Prussian War is really not a time period that I have read much in and so it was amazing to see how quickly war descended upon the country and how quickly things turned upside down. The detail in this book was fantastic. The author does a great job of bringing Paris under siege to life. There are so many different groups at odds during this time period and the author infuses great historical detail so that you can understand all of the different motives that helped to throw the city into chaos. This is a wonderful tale of resilience, strength, and hope - perfect for my fellow historical fiction lovers!



Monday, March 29, 2021

Author Interview: Elizabeth Bell

Hello and happy Monday! Today, I am thrilled to welcome Elizabeth Bell, author of "The Lazare Family Saga." All four books in the series are out now!

1. All four books in the Lazare Family are now out: did you know from the beginning that you wanted the series to be four books? Did you write all four books before publishing the first book?

When I started this project back in the 1990s, I thought I was writing a single novel. I knew it would be doorstopper-sized, but so were my inspirations: Colleen McCullough’s The Thorn Birds, Alex Haley’s Roots, and John Jakes’s North and South. My final word count is over half a million, so I broke up the narrative into four books of 400-500 pages each. Because the characters’ lives are so interconnected, because I wanted to include both foreshadowing and callbacks and truly make the story satisfying, I waited till I’d written a complete draft of the whole series before publishing Book One, Necessary Sins.

2. Tell us about your latest, "Sweet Medicine," which just came out in February. Who is your favorite character? What is your favorite scene?

I'll pick my blood transfusion scene, an incredibly risky procedure in 1860 before doctors understood either blood types or infection. I consulted with real medical professionals in a Facebook group called Trauma Fiction, and I took a deep dive into Victorian medicine. So many 19th-century medical texts have been digitized by Google Books—with illustrations! They're not for the faint of heart, but they're invaluable. The final blood transfusion scene works on both literal and symbolic levels, and it epitomizes the book's title, Sweet Medicine.

A fan-favorite character is the patriarch of the Lazare family, René. The saga begins with his conception, and the final Epilogue is from his point-of-view as an octogenarian. Those are the only pages in the first-person. I didn't plan them that way, but that's how René gave them to me. That Epilogue really felt like a gift, and it ties the whole saga together. Not wrapped up with a bow—history and life are messier than that—but nevertheless in a satisfying conclusion. René is the most progressive of the characters, and he's got the best sense of humor, both of which are essential to his appeal. So if I have to pick one character, it would be him.

3. What was your research process like for "Sweet Medicine?" Has your research process changed at all from the first book to the last?

Because I was already familiar with my time period and settings, much of my research for Sweet Medicine was refreshing and deepening what I already knew. I went back to my research notes from years ago to guide me. What did I want to emphasize? What did I need a better understanding of? I've always cast my research net wide, so I was also reading—and listening to—new books. I discovered Clara Brown, an important real-life supporting character, through an audiobook called Frontier Grit about strong women of the American West. Then I chased down other sources about Mrs. Brown, a formerly enslaved woman who was a true entrepreneur. Fortunately, I work in a university library.

4. How are you feeling about the Lazare series ending? Do you have any future books planned?

I'm experiencing something akin to empty nest syndrome! My babies are all out in the world! The Lazare Family Saga is the culmination of nearly three decades of research, revision, and persistence. I've had some people try to tell me I have more books in me, but I don't think I do. These characters' struggles and triumphs are so personal for me. I feel as if every word of this series is written with my blood. It's also a matter of having limited time and energy. My challenge now is to make the most of this magnum opus. I'm planning new formats, audiobooks and hardcovers, and I'm striving to reach new readers.

5. I know your path to publishing was not clear cut. Why did you end up choosing the path you chose? Do you have any words of wisdom for other authors trying to get published?

After nearly three years of knocking on the gates of traditional publishing and receiving only rejections, my choices were: 1. Throw your life's work into a trash can, or 2. Publish your work independently. I hate that this is the case, but it doesn't matter if you've written a good book. It matters if you've written a low-risk, easily marketable book. Aspiring authors should decide whether they're going to write the books that are in their hearts or if they're going to write to market. Occasionally, these two things align, but often they do not. For me, they did not. Agents and editors looked at my work, saw risk, and dismissed it as worthless to them. That's why it's been so gratifying to receive glowing reviews, including two Editors' Choice designations from the Historical Novel Society. My work does have merit and it does have an audience; it just doesn't fit into traditional publishing's pigeonholes. My advice to aspiring authors is: If you don't write to market—and if you don't know someone in publishing—be prepared to publish your work yourself and find your own audience.

6. If you could bring three people, real or fictional, with you to a deserted island, who would you bring with you?

Instead of company, can I have a library?

Tuesday, March 16, 2021

TLC Book Tours: The Girl in the Painting by Tea Cooper

 Title: The Girl in the Painting

Author: Tea Cooper

Format: ARC

Publisher: Thomas Nelson

Publish Date: March 9, 2021

Source: TLC Book Tours

 What's the Story?:

From "Australia, 1906

Orphan Jane Piper is nine years old when philanthropist siblings Michael and Elizabeth Quinn take her into their home to further her schooling. The Quinns are no strangers to hardship. Having arrived in Australia as penniless immigrants, they now care for others as lost as they once were.

Despite Jane’s mysterious past, her remarkable aptitude for mathematics takes her far over the next seven years, and her relationship with Elizabeth and Michael flourishes as she plays an increasingly prominent part in their business.

But when Elizabeth reacts in terror to an exhibition at the local gallery, Jane realizes no one knows Elizabeth after all—not even Elizabeth herself. As the past and present converge and Elizabeth’s grasp on reality loosens, Jane sets out to unravel her story before it’s too late."

My Two Cents:

In the late 1800s, Michael and Elizabeth go to Australia to reunite with their family. What they find is that the family they thought they were reuniting with is no more. So they are forced to build a new life in a new country that is often difficult to find footing in. Fast forward to the early 1900s, Elizabeth and Michael are older now and established. They pluck Jane out of an orphanage. She has a head for a numbers and easily slides into Michael and Elizabeth's lives, becoming more than just a partner in her business. In each other, they each find the family that they never had before and have been yearning for. Jane is happy with her new station in life so when Elizabeth begins to face a lot of different troubles that seem to affect both her physical and mental well-being, Jane is especially concerned about unraveling how Elizabeth's past continues to shape her present. This is a great historical fiction with a brush of mystery!

I loved the characters. The author does a great job of showing what motivates Michael, Elizabeth, and Jane. Each of them has so much tragedy in their backgrounds that drive them to do whatever it takes to prevent tragedy from striking again. Jane was especially interesting to me. We get to see less of her background but the way she finds herself involved with Michael and Elizabeth was fascinating. Jane speaks before she thinks things through but she has a gift for numbers. Although she doesn't show it, she really cares for Michael and Elizabeth and the way she dives in to uncover Elizabeth's past when she starts to have seemingly unexplained mental episodes was really endearing.

 I loved the mystery at the center of this book so between that and the wonderful setting, I was hooked! I have read so little historical fiction set in Australia. I loved reading about what it was like both when Michael and Elizabeth first arrived and when Jane meets both of them in the 1900s. The author does a wonderful job of bringing Australia to life, a place where so many people with such different life stories and from so many different places came together. The detail was rich and I loved how vividly everything was described. You can see the streets, you can smell the air - this really was a treat!

Historical fiction lovers who like great settings and secrets will enjoy this book!

Tuesday, February 9, 2021

Review: Odd Woman Out by Melanie Chartoff

Title: Odd Woman Out 

Author: Melanie Chartoff 

Format: ARC

Publisher: Books Fluent

Publish Date: February 2, 2021

Source: PR

What's the Story?:

From "From her 1950s childhood in a suburb she describes as an "abusement park," to performing Molière on Broadway, to voicing characters on the popular "Rugrats" cartoon series, Melanie Chartoff was anxious "out of character," preferring any imaginary world to her real one. Obsessed with exploring her talent and mastering craft, fame came as a destabilizing byproduct. Suppressing a spiritual breakdown while co-starring on a late-night comedy show, Chartoff grew more estranged from whoever she was meant to be. But given a private audience with a guru, she finally heard her inner voice, played by '70s soul singer Barry White, crooning, "Get out, baby!" All the while, she's courted by men with homing pigeons and Priuses, idealized by guys who want the girl du jour from TV to be their baby rearer or kidney donor.

Go backstage on Broadway, behind the scenes on network television, and inside the complicated psyche of a talented performer struggling to play the role of a complete human. Odd Woman Out intimately exposes the nature of identity in the life of a performing artist, snapshotting the hopeful search for a self Chartoff could love, and someone else's self to love, too."

My Two Cents:

"Odd Woman Out" is the memoir by Hollywood actress, Melanie Chartoff. As a kid of the 90s, I know her as the voice behind a couple of the characters on "Rugrats." She had a fascinating career before that in a world that was certainly not easy for actresses. She gives us a glimpse into both the gilded acting world as well as her personal life and background, including a difficult childhood. Candor, humor, and honesty are the hallmarks of this book.

This book is more of a series of vignettes from throughout Chartoff's life. The stories are often funny and also poignant. The beginning of the book starts with Chartoff going to search for a sex toy to cure some of the ills of menopause and ends up being spotted by paparazzi. She touches on her difficult childhood with an abusive father and a mother who shrinks back until she seemingly blends into the walls. She also has some really lovely stories like finding the love of her life late in her life. I loved how Chartoff was able to effortlessly blend the sweet with the sour with the sometimes laugh-out-loud funny throughout the book.

I really liked Chartoff's writing style throughout the book. This book definitely has range. She can be funny and also really serious. Her honesty and self-deprecation draw you in from the beginning and make you feel the full range of emotions represented in the story. This is a very solid collection of stories and would be perfect who welcomes crying as much as they do crying. 


Thursday, February 4, 2021

Author Guest Post: Lorelei Brush, Author of "Chasing the American Dream"

 My Experience with Mascot Books, A Hybrid Publisher



On February 2, I had the thrill of the launch of my second novel, Chasing the American Dream. It’s a story in the genre of historical fiction, set in 1955. In a couple of sentences: David spots the martial stride of a brutal ex-S.S. Major he’d sent to Nuremberg. He reverts to habits he mastered in the Office of Strategic Services in a quest for justice yet finds himself in a fight with the U.S. government which threatens his own American Dream. 

Do feel free to order a copy, from Mascot or Amazon or Barnes & Noble or your favorite local bookstore!

But in the meantime, I’ll tell you about my experience in the realm of hybrid publishing, a venture I expect many of this community of authors may be considering. I’ve published two novels thus far with Mascot Books, which advertises itself as “a full-service hybrid publishing company dedicated to helping authors at all stages of their publishing journey create a high quality printed or digital book that matches their vision.” 

My experience is that they take very seriously that last phrase of working hard to help authors “realize their own vision for the work.” First, Mascot’s acquisition team reads the manuscript to be sure it measures up to their quality standards. I appreciated this stamp of approval, as I certainly want to publish books that others agree are of good quality. Second, the production staff begins each step by asking what the author wants for the book. Think title, cover, font. They then send options and are open to trying out proposed changes. 


My first book cover (Uncovering) was drawn by one of their graphic artists and was more creative and appealing than what I initially suggested, as though the artist had invested his time reading and absorbing the ambiance of the story. The editorial staff did an excellent job of copy-editing both of my books, with the addition of a summary of each book that, in one case, suggested an interesting shuffling of chapters. I loved the idea. In addition, I was pleased that the manuscript returned to me after each set of changes, with staff always making sure they were appropriately following through with my requests. They kept me up to date on what was happening, graciously responding to my numerous emails and calls. They truly produced products that “matched my vision.”


So far it may seem that this hybrid publishing business is everything an author could ask for: a process ensuring quality carried out by responsive individuals in a timely manner. All true. There are, of course, limits, largely in the task of publicity. Mascot offers multiple levels of involvement for their publicity staff. The basic level has them producing documents such as a PR page to send out to announce the publication and an order form. They send these along with a Marketing Guide and a Sales Guide to suggest the actions an author should take to publicize the book. The guides are full of useful information, no question. The “problem” is that, as is true these days even for traditional publishing houses, the onus of publicity is clearly on the author. It is possible to purchase a higher level of publisher involvement from Mascot, in which their staff contact local bookstores, potential reviewers and bloggers, and media outlets to set up launch events. However, in the three months publicity staff were working for me on my first book, they managed to schedule only one signing event and one review. I decided the investment wasn’t worth it for my second novel and have been more successful making my own contacts.

I hope these paragraphs give you a sense of the potential advantages and disadvantages of publishing through a hybrid—or at least this one hybrid. If you are someone who likes being in charge, who might balk at an editor’s suggestions of major changes to your manuscript, you might seriously consider the hybrid option. Do check on what each hybrid publisher will take on and what remains with you. And certainly check the costs. This isn’t an inexpensive endeavor. But following the path of hybrid publishing does ensure you have a great deal of control and your book is published in months rather than years.

Wednesday, February 3, 2021

Author Interview: Lorelei Brush, Author of "Chasing the American Dream"

 Today I am thrilled to welcome Lorelei Brush here to A Bookish Affair for an interview. Don't forget to check out my review of "Chasing the American Dream" from yesterday and come back tomorrow for a guest post from Ms. Brush!

Author Lorelei Brush

  1. Chasing the American Dream takes place in a very different time period than your first book. What inspired you to visit World War II and the 1950s through this book?

I’ve found my source of inspiration for both of my books in conundrums I’ve faced in my life. My first book, Uncovering, takes place in northwest Pakistan, an area of conservative Islamic beliefs. I lived and worked there for two years, directing a USAID-funded education project and had the privilege of working with an inspiring group of dedicated Pakistanis. These women and men were committed to bringing the best possible education to children. Part of the difficulty we faced was a prevalent belief that girls didn’t need an education. I wanted to figure out how woman with Western values—like me and my female staff—could manage a full work and personal life in such an atmosphere.

For Chasing the American Dream, I was inspired by a puzzle in my family. As I was growing up, my father told my brother and me tales of his adventures during World War II as part of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS). He sounded like a superhero with his sneaking about behind enemy lines and sending coded messages to the Allied forces. His stories were full of swashbuckling actions, and yet my experience of him throughout the 1950s was of an angry, unfulfilled man. Why was he so angry? What happened during the war that precipitated his strong negativity?

  1. What was your research process like? What was the most interesting tidbit you found in your research?

After I retired from my paying job, I spent about six months in the National Archives where the OSS records are stored. It was a treasure trove! I could trace my father, who was a Captain, from the day he set sail for Europe to the day he returned to the U.S. Almost everything he’d told us kids turned out to be a fabrication. (There’s a “tidbit” for you!) He’d never been “behind enemy lines.” He’d never acted like a “superhero.” So, why did he need to portray himself as one? I believe, now, his war was a huge disappointment. It didn’t give him the chance to be the hero he wanted to be. And he was angry. My challenge was to figure out how he might have acted in the 1950s to work out that anger. And, of course, to become a more loving father.

  1. Did you know, before you started, about the historical events you describe?

Though I was a child in the 1950s, I wasn’t particularly aware of the politics of the time. I knew about the Red Scare, as we regularly had drills about what to do in a nuclear attack (i.e., we had to crawl underneath our school desks). I heard about Joe McCarthy. But for the book, I had to do a lot of research to figure out how McCarthy’s accusations hurt individuals. I also had to research lots of details about the last year of World War II. My father left a badge saying he was in the Target Forces, but I had no idea what that was. When I found out he was tracking down German scientists, my imagination went into overdrive, and I had a big story to tell.

  1. Who was your favorite character to write about in this book?

I loved writing about Jacob, who is a Jewish electrician required by the Third Reich to assist in building V-2 rockets. The protagonist, David, liberates the labor camp, meets Jacob, helps him come to the U.S., and involves him in the adventures of the 1950s. Jacob grapples with what it will take to forgive himself for his activities in the camp, his survivor’s guilt. His process is grueling and critical to his own well-being. I, too, went through a process of forgiving as I grappled with my father’s lies and anger. Writing this story allowed me to create an alternative story of how he might have spent his life with greater happiness and satisfaction.

  1. Do you have any advice for aspiring authors?

My advice would be to take a conundrum, a persistent niggling issue, and devise characters who work through it. It’s an excellent way to find inspiration and produce a gobsmacking good novel. Some writers advise authors to “write what you know” or “write from your life.” I think this idea of “rewriting” your life, solving one of life’s puzzles, is a corollary to that: home in on an enigma and invent a story that untangles the threads and weaves them together into a more beautiful whole.

Tuesday, February 2, 2021

Review: Chasing the American Dream by Lorelei Brush

 Title: Chasing the American Dream

Author: Lorelei Brush

Format: Digital

Publisher: Mascot Books

Publish Date: February 2, 2021 (Today!!!)

Source: Author

What's the Story?:

Description: "Chasing the American Dream captures the quest of one man—David Svehla—for justice against those whom he knew to have committed crimes against humanity during World War II. To his horror, his mission transforms into a fight with the U.S. Government which threatens his own American Dream. A central theme of the book is the question of when the government is justified in suppressing information from the public and when it has a moral responsibility to release the information. Think: the coronavirus, the Patriot Act, and back after the World War II, the bringing of over 1,000 Nazi scientists to the U.S. when they were known to have supervised labor camps."

My Two Cents:

When "Chasing the American Dream" opens, World War II and ending and David is part of an elite unit fighting to evacuate and close a gruesome Nazi camp that used forced labor to build rockets for the Axis Forces side of the war. David is fully committed to doing what is right and believes that the bad will be punished. Fast forward ten years later, David is still very much haunted by what he witnessed in Europe and so he is especially shocked to see someone from his past that he very much believed got what was coming to him long ago. He sees a brutal Nazi from the camps simply riding the bus in Ohio as if none of the terrible things he did mattered just 10 years later. This is a story about how even noble acts can be interpreted incorrectly if the acts don't suit a particular narrative favored at the time.

I have read plenty of World War II books and definitely many about the atrocities that the Allied Forces uncovered when they were liberating the various occupied places. This book gives you a glimpse of that but what really makes this book interesting is how it covers the period 10 years later when the United States is now dealing with other crises: the Red Scare and the Cold War. David's frame of reference is very much informed by the world he experienced ten years prior where all Nazis were to be punished to fit their crimes. It was interesting to see how he grappled with how what he felt was truly fair and just becomes up for debate as the United States focuses on fighting the Cold War.

I was a little familiar with "Operation: Paperclip" before this book but this book really brought it to life for me. In the 1950s, countering the Soviet Union and engaging in things like the Space Race becomes so important to the U.S. government that they will do whatever it takes to win, including bringing Nazi scientists (enemies of the previous war) to the United States without punishment in order to gain an advantage over the Soviets, no matter how morally murky it makes things. This book does a great job of showing how such a big shift in policy, culture, and beliefs could happen in a relatively small amount of time.

The detail in the book was really wonderful and it is clear how much effort the author put into creating David's world, both in Europe and at home. I loved reading about these events that I did not really know that much about as the shame of giving into quick wins over the Soviet and even the Red Scare itself are a blight in American history and are not often talked about.

They say that those who don't remember history are doomed to repeat it. This book made me think of other times throughout history where right and wrong are blurred and bent in order to pursue a particular goal without caring about the context or what the ramifications are. The best books are those that make you ponder things long after you close the book. This is one of those!


Friday, January 29, 2021

TLC Book Tours: Betrayal at Ravenswick by Kelly Oliver

Title:  Betrayal at Ravenswick

Author: Kelly Oliver

Format: ARC

Publisher: Level Best Books

Publish Date: March 10, 2020

Source: TLC Book Tours

What's the Story?:

From "Downton Abbey meets Agatha Christie...

What's the best way to purge an unfaithful husband?
Become a spy for British Intelligence, of course.

Desperate to get out of London, and determined to help the war effort and stop thinking about her philandering husband, Fiona Figg volunteers to go undercover.

At Ravenswick Abbey a charming South African war correspondent has tongues wagging. His friends say he's a crack huntsman. The War Office is convinced he's a traitor. Fiona thinks he's a pompous prig.

What sort of name is Fredrick Fredricks anyway?

Too bad Fiona doesn't own a Wolseley pith helmet.

My Two Cents:

When "Betrayal at Ravenswick" opens, Fiona Figg's life is in shambles. Her life, which she thought was so very stable is in shambles. It's 1914 and the war is in full force throughout Europe. Fiona copes with her newfound personal chaos by throwing herself into supporting the war effort by taking a job with the War Office as a spy. England is working to suss out traitors and Fiona is sent to trail after one. Will she get her man or will she fail?

This book was a really good opening to a new cozy mystery series. Fiona is a great character and I loved how we got to see her grow and become a lot more independent throughout the book.  At first, she is not confident in how she is going to be able to corner the suspected traitor. We see her methods and confidence grow as she finds her footing with her new and very exciting work.

I haven't delved much into cozy mysteries but they are so very perfect for winter. The book also has some really nice historical detail. Reading about Fiona's experiences with the war effort on the home front in England as well as her time in the hospitals were so interesting and I loved how the author brought those scenes to life.

The writing was overall good and kept me enthralled. There were some bits that felt a bit stiff at the beginning but once Fiona commits herself to a new cause, the book moves along well with nice pacing. 

Overall, this was a great intro to a fun new series!

About Betrayal at Ravenswick

• Publisher: Historia (March 10, 2020) • Paperback: 240 pages What’s the best way to purge an unfaithful husband? Become a spy for British Intelligence, of course. Desperate to get out of London and determined to help the war effort, Fiona Figg volunteers to go undercover. It keeps her from thinking about Andrew, her philandering husband. At Ravenswick Abbey a charming South African war correspondent has tongues wagging. His friends say he’s a crack huntsman. The War Office is convinced he’s a traitor. Fiona thinks he’s a pompous prig. What sort of name is Fredrick Fredricks anyway? Too bad Fiona doesn’t own a Wolseley pith helmet. At Ravenswick a murderer is on the prowl, and it’s not just the big-game hunter who’s ready to pounce. Reader’s Favorite Award for Best Historical Novel Social Media Please use the hashtag #betrayalatravenswick, and tag @tlcbooktours and @kellyoliverbook.

Purchase Links

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | IndieBound

About High Treason at the Grand Hotel

• Publisher: Historia (January 5, 2021) • Paperback: 276 pages Paris. 1917. Never underestimate the power of a good hat… or a sharp hatpin. Sent by the War Office to follow the notorious Black Panther, file clerk turned secret agent Fiona Figg is under strict orders not to get too close and not to wear any of her usual “get-ups.” But what self-respecting British spy can resist a good disguise? Within hours of her arrival in Paris, Fiona is up to her fake eyebrows in missing maids, jewel thieves, double agents, and high treason. When Fiona is found dressed as a bellboy holding a bloody paperknife over the body of a dead countess, it’s not just her career that’s on the block. Her next date might be with Madame Guillotine.

Purchase Links

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | IndieBound

About Kelly Oliver

Kelly Oliver grew up in the Northwest, Montana, Idaho, and Washington states. Her maternal grandfather was a forest ranger committed to saving the trees, and her paternal grandfather was a logger hell bent on cutting them down. On both sides, her ancestors were some of the first settlers in Northern Idaho. In her own unlikely story, Kelly went from eating a steady diet of wild game shot by her dad to becoming a vegetarian while studying philosophy and pondering animal minds. Competing with peers who’d come from private schools and posh families “back East,” Kelly’s working class backwoods grit has served her well. And much to her parent’s surprise, she’s managed to feed and cloth herself as a professional philosopher. When she’s not writing mysteries, Kelly Oliver is a Distinguished Professor of Philosophy at Vanderbilt University. She earned her B.A. from Gonzaga University and her Ph.D. from Northwestern University. She is the author of thirteen scholarly books, ten anthologies, and over 100 articles, including work on campus rape, reproductive technologies, women and the media, film noir, and Alfred Hitchcock. Her work has been translated into seven languages, and she has published an op-ed on loving our pets in The New York Times. She has been interviewed on ABC television news, the Canadian Broadcasting Network, and various radio programs. Kelly lives in Nashville with her husband, Benigno Trigo, and her furry family, Mischief and Mayhem. Find out more about Kelly at her website, and connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.


Monday, January 25, 2021

Review: The Yellow Wife by Sadeqa Johnson

 Title: The Yellow Wife

Author: Sadeqa Johnson

Format: ARC

Publisher: 37 Ink

Publish Date: January 12, 2021

Source: Borrowed

What's the Story?:

From "A young female slave is sold to a married man who intends to start a family with her, even as he manages the particularly cruel estate, the Devil's Half Acre, where thousands of black people are beaten, broken, and sold."

My Two Cents:

 When "The Yellow Wife" opens, Pheby is sure that life could not possibly be as bad anywhere else as it is on the plantation where she is forced to serve a difficult family. A broken promise loses Pheby her mother and lands Pheby in a decrepit jail where prisoners are treated so badly. Pheby tries to keep her head low but the owner of the jail takes a liking to Pheby and falls for her. Their relationship will never, ever be balanced but Pheby realizes that in order to preserve herself, she can try to keep her head above water by giving into this relationship (which broke my heart for her).

I've said it before and I'll say it again but one of the reasons I love historical fiction is that it can open your eyes to people and events that you've never known about. This book was so eye opening. Pheby is based on a woman named Mary Lumpkin who is forced to marry her jailer in mid-1800s Virginia, which is also where this book takes place. I never knew about the private jails and the fact that this story and the story it was based on took place not all that far away from where I am today was really fascinating. The research and detail that went into this book made this book, even with all of its difficult subject matter, compulsively readable.

Pheby is such a fantastic character. She is smart and savvy and such a survivor. She is able to do really difficult things with her eye ever on the future and how the decisions and the sacrifices she makes currently may lead to something better in the future. She is put into an unthinkable position when she is forced to marry her jailer and suddenly becomes mistress of the jail where people who look like her are thrown for no reason at all. The balancing act that she must go through in the book in order to keep going was amazing and quite difficult to read about. You are pulling for Pheby the whole time - she is amazing!

While Sadeqa Johnson is not a debut author, this is her debut historical fiction and I am so hopeful that she writes more. She took a really difficult series of events and truly brought it to life. This book has such a rich tapestry of detail and I thoroughly enjoyed it!

Monday, January 11, 2021

Review: How the Penguins Saved Veronica by Hazel Prior

Title:  How the Penguins Saved Veronica

Author: Hazel Prior

Format: Paperback

Publisher: Berkley

Publish Date: June 16, 2020

Source: Library

What's the Story?:

From "Eighty-five-year-old Veronica McCreedy is estranged from her family and wants to find a worthwhile cause to leave her fortune to. When she sees a documentary about penguins being studied in Antarctica, she tells the scientists she’s coming to visit—and won’t take no for an answer. Shortly after arriving, she convinces the reluctant team to rescue an orphaned baby penguin. He becomes part of life at the base, and Veronica's closed heart starts to open.

Her grandson, Patrick, comes to Antarctica to make one last attempt to get to know his grandmother. Together, Veronica, Patrick, and even the scientists learn what family, love, and connection are all about."

My Two Cents:

In "How the Penguins Saved Veronica," Veronica is not exactly happy. She is in her mid-eighties and she knows the end is coming near. She has no friends except for her housekeeper, who probably mostly stays around because she gets paid. She has no family (or so she thinks) until she find out that her late son, whom she gave up for adoption, has a son who is now an adult. So Veronica decides she MUST meet him, which sets off of a chain of events that will start with disappointment and end with wonder, love, and the realization that even the grumpy Veronica can find joy!

Oh, this book was such a perfect way to start out 2021 when things still feel very much on fire. I LOVE the trope of a very grumpy character finding joy and that things really aren't that bad (these days, I sometimes feel like one of those grumpy characters). I thought this book was initially going to just be about Veronica meeting her grandson, Patrick, but this book is so much more and yes, there are really penguins. Veronica is the perfect grump: everything must be just so, she does things on her own time, and never seems to think about how others may feel. I loved how we slowly get to find out what turned her into the grump she has been for her entire life. Everything seems to fall into place. The secondary characters like Patrick and Terry, one of the penguin scientists, make for a well-rounded cast.

The best part of the book really starts after Veronica learns about the penguins in Antarctica and decides she MUST go see them. A scientific project in such a desolate place is not the greatest place to visit and definitely not a good place for a holiday. She is enchanted and I loved how we get to see Veronica almost turn giddy seeing the penguins (I cannot blame her one bit).

This is a very warm-hearted book! I loved this sweet story and it's perfect for when you are just looking for a good escape!

Friday, January 8, 2021

Just Trust Me Quick Picks

 Today, I'm introducing a new feature here. There are just some books that you need to read to believe and no review could do them justice the way just giving them a read will. 

Wednesday, January 6, 2021

Review: Josh and Hazel's Guide to Not Dating by Christina Lauren

 Title: Josh and Hazel's Guide to Not Dating

Author: Christina Lauren 

Format: Paperback

Publisher: Gallery Books

Publish Date: September 2018

Source: Library

What's the Story?:

From "Hazel Camille Bradford knows she’s a lot to take—and frankly, most men aren’t up to the challenge. If her army of pets and thrill for the absurd don’t send them running, her lack of filter means she’ll say exactly the wrong thing in a delicate moment. Their loss. She’s a good soul in search of honest fun.

Josh Im has known Hazel since college, where her zany playfulness proved completely incompatible with his mellow restraint. From the first night they met—when she gracelessly threw up on his shoes—to when she sent him an unintelligible email while in a post-surgical haze, Josh has always thought of Hazel more as a spectacle than a peer. But now, ten years later, after a cheating girlfriend has turned his life upside down, going out with Hazel is a breath of fresh air.

Not that Josh and Hazel date. At least, not each other. Because setting each other up on progressively terrible double blind dates means there’s nothing between them...right?"

 My Two Cents:

"Josh and Hazel's Guide to Not Dating" is an adorable friends-to-lovers story from the writing duo behind Christina Lauren (which are becoming some of my favorite books when I'm looking for a good romance that will leave me sighing happily). Josh and Hazel have been friends for a long time but they have never dated, it seems totally unthinkable that they would even consider it. Can really good friends ever make it as more-than-just-friends?

With as rough as 2020 was on my reading, one genre that I had considerable success with getting into was romance. With everything going on in the world, the happy endings that romances have brought me considerable joy in a year that made it so hard to focus on reading and Christina Lauren books are some of my favorites!

Hazel is a joy! She is an inexhaustible elementary school teacher with a bunch of pets (which this animal lover really liked). Josh is much more serious and while he loves Hazel, he doesn't quite get all of her chaos but he knows it comes with the territory and eventually he's more than happy to be entangled by Hurricane Hazel. I love all of the little touches that the author adds to the characters so that readers fall for them as well!

Like so many characters from other Christina Lauren books, Josh and Hazel both feel really real. The chemistry between them is palpable and even if it isn't surprising where they eventually get to with their relationship, you are cheering so hard for them the entire way. I also really loved how the authors capture such great banter between both of them: they are friends for a reason and that is clear in the way they tease each other and keep each other on their toes.

This book was a perfect pick for chasing away some of the 2020 blues!


Monday, January 4, 2021

Review: Letters to the Lost by Iona Grey

 Title: Letters to the Lost

Author: Iona Grey

Format: Paperback

Publisher: Thomas Dunne Books

Publish Date: May 25, 2015

Source: Owned

What's the Story?:

From "I promised to love you forever, in a time when I didn't know if I'd live to see the start of another week. Now it looks like forever is finally running out. I never stopped loving you. I tried, for the sake of my own sanity, but I never even got close, and I never stopped hoping either.

Late on a frozen February evening, a young woman is running through the streets of London. Having fled from her abusive boyfriend and with nowhere to go, Jess stumbles onto a forgotten lane where a small, clearly unlived in old house offers her best chance of shelter for the night. The next morning, a mysterious letter arrives and when she can't help but open it, she finds herself drawn inexorably into the story of two lovers from another time.

In London 1942, Stella meets Dan, a US airman, quite by accident, but there is no denying the impossible, unstoppable attraction that draws them together. Dan is a B-17 pilot flying his bomber into Europe from a British airbase; his odds of survival are one in five. In the midst of such uncertainty, the one thing they hold onto is the letters they write to each other. Fate is unkind and they are separated by decades and continents. In the present, Jess becomes determined to find out what happened to them. Her hope—inspired by a love so powerful it spans a lifetime—will lead her to find a startling redemption in her own life in this powerfully moving novel."

 My Two Cents:

"Letters to the Lost" is a story told in two times: the first time is during the height of World War II and the second time is much more recent. As the story unfolds, we see how the characters in both the past and more recent time twist together. The World War II story line was much more captivating to me: a hidden love story of lovers torn apart is one of my favorite tropes and so I was so interested to see what happened between Stella and Dan and how they were first brought together so forcefully only to be torn apart.

The story unfolded fairly slowly for me at first but I read this book as a group read and it was the group that kept me going until my interest took off a little more later on in the book. The more present day story felt very much like simply a vehicle for the past story until the very end when light is shed on what happened to Stella and Dan. Jess and the other characters in the more present day story did not seem to be as well developed as the characters in the past story, which made them not nearly as interesting and those parts of the books go rather slow.

The detail in the WWII sections of the book were really great. I loved the descriptions of what the characters were doing and thinking as the world was going through such chaos around them. I loved the juxtaposition of the chaos of war and the enduring human feeling of love between Stella and Dan. It's these descriptions that make this book particularly bittersweet.

Overall, this book was good but I wanted to be more engaged with the present day story and I wanted the book to feel more balanced. Because of the ending, the present day story needed to be there but I wanted some more punch. The descriptions made this book a great treat for the historical fiction lover in me. 


Friday, January 1, 2021

Welcome, 2021!

 May your year be filled with good books, bookmarks that never get lost, no library fines, and wonderfully bookish people to discuss it all with!

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