Midweek Mini Reviews #5

  

Goodnight From London by Jennifer Robson 

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I’m a huge fan of Jennifer Robson’s first two novels from her The Great War series so I was excited to finally get the opportunity to meet her and get an ARC of her newest book, Goodnight from London which is actually part of a new series set during the 1940s.

Goodnight from London like Robson’s past novels is extremely well researched and you truly get a feel for what it was like for a female war correspondent. Which was an interesting as its amazing just how far Ruby’s male coworkers went in order to protect their pride and bring her down. I loved how the writing and descriptions of all the sights and sounds whisked me away on a London adventure with the heroine as I’ve never been to England before.

If you’re looking for romance there’s not much of it here as its all very slow burn and takes a backseat to Ruby’s professional life. However, there are great friendships, work relationships  and family bonds that are formed and it was lovely to see Ruby finally find a warm, loving and supportive place that she could settle down in and call “home”. I’m definitely looking forward to the next Jennifer Robson book!
Publisher Social Media: Twitter/Facebook/SavvyReader/

What Remains: Object Lessons in Love and Loss by Karen Von Hahn

whatremains

I first came across this title in the House of Anansi catalogue and the synopsis had me curious to learn more. Fortunately, I was able to get an ARC of it at OLA while waiting for their Ian Hamilton signing.

What Remains by Karen Von Hahn is a memoir about a daughter, recalling her larger than life, dramatic mother. It’s also a fascinating look at the writer’s life and upbringing as well as her mother’s life and how each of their personal circumstances made them who they were and are. I thought it was unique for the authour to use objects that were significant to her and/or her late mother as starting points for each of the chapters in the book and as a way to examine the writer’s family history and significant relationships. I also appreciated the fact that unlike most other memoirs I’ve read, this one takes place in Toronto, which allowed me to see what the city and neighbourhoods were once like back in the 1970s and ’80s.

Recommended for those who are all too familiar with having grown up with a (somewhat) maddening and overburdening yet glamorous mother, or those who like those types of memoirs and wanting to get a glimpse at the life of the privileged in Toronto during the 1970s and ’80s.

Regardless of how this book came into my possession, the above review consists of my honest opinion of the book and my opinion only.

 

Book Review | The Beauty Queen of Jerusalem by Sarit Yishai-Levi

beautyqueenAuthour:
Sarit Yishai-Levi
Format:
eGalley
Publication date:
April 5th 2016
Publisher:
St. Martin’s Press
Source:
Received from publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Review:
As it’s been five years since my time in Israel, I thought it would be enjoyable to read several books from writers who are from Israel. A couple of the books are review books, thus you will definitely be able to read my thoughts on them.

The Beauty Queen of Jerusalem by Sarit Yishai-Levi is the first of these books, and was in fact the first book I finished in 2016. The Beauty Queen of Jerusalem follows three generations of Sephardic Jewish women and is told from the perspective of Gabriela the daughter of Luna, the titular “Beauty Queen of Jerusalem”. It’s a fascinating, albeit somewhat tragic family saga concerning the Ermosa women who are unfortunate enough to marry men who are hopelessly in love with other women. I loved that the novel was mostly set in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv as these were the cities (outside of the city I resided in) that I spent the majority of my time in. And although much has changed since the times of Gabriela’s mother and grandmother, I could still picture the cities, the food, and the environment all of which made me nostalgic.

Of the three leading women, I found Luna to be an exceptionally unsympathetic character. Even as a child, she was incredibly bratty and to be honest though it may sound cruel, I felt that she got what she deserved in the finale. Another issue I had with this novel, was how abrupt the conclusion felt, as it left a few major loose ends hanging. Most notably, I was sad that we were not able to witness a formal reconciliation between Gabriela and her father, although I did appreciate that the novel concluded on an uplifting and hopeful manner.

All in all, The Beauty Queen of Jerusalem remains one of my favourite reads in 2016. It’s a simple, captivating family saga that focuses on women who, while they may not be always likeable are no doubt strong. And even though I’m not a fan of sad stories The Beauty Queen of Jerusalem has a decent balance of tragedy and hope, happiness and humour that made me fall in love with it.

Regardless of how this book came into my possession, the above review consists of my honest opinion of the book and my opinion only.

Book Review | The Japanese Lover by Isabel Allende

JPloveAuthour:
Isabel Allende
Format:
Advance Reader Copy, 322 pages
Publication date:
November 3rd 2015
Publisher:
Atria Books
Source:
Received from publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Review:
As this was my first Isabel Allende novel, I wasn’t sure what to expect. However, the synopsis of The Japanese Lover made me somewhat inclined to pick it up as I love an excellent love story and I do enjoy reading historical fiction. What I ended up with mixed feelings regarding the book as a whole.

At the beginning, The Japanese Lover drew me into the story. I loved the setting, and felt connected to Irina. Yet after the first chapter, the book took an unexpected turn and the book sort of became weird after that. Overall, I felt that the story jumped around a great deal, which apparently is common in the authour’s other novels. One disadvantage of this was that we don’t truly become acquainted with Irina or witness much of her relationship with Seth. To be honest, I didn’t buy their relationship as it appeared to be extremely one-sided relationship in my opinion. On the other hand, I did enjoy Alma’s back story in addition to the love story of her and Ichimei which had several incredibly sweet moments. And those flashbacks were probably what drew me back to the book time and time again, as I loved seeing Alma’s journey and how she grew into the person she is in the present day. Against the story of Alma and her complicated relationship with her wealthy relatives, it was also fascinating to glimpse a bit of what life inside a Japanese internment camp was like, and how under such harsh and trying circumstance the people you wouldn’t expect are the ones who are able to rise up and become stronger individuals.

In the last part, while Alma’s story does receive some measure of closure, everything else is left unresolved as the ending of the book was rather abrupt. Nevertheless, the second half of the book was still definitely an improvement over than the majority of the first half. And while I did enjoy the historical aspect of The Japanese Lover and its exploration of class, culture and discrimination in addition as the various touching and heartwarming moments sprinkled throughout the book, the shaky pacing and timing on top of the rough transitions between present day events and the past led me to not enjoy this book as much as I thought I would.

Regardless of how this book came into my possession, the above review consists of my honest opinion of the book and my opinion only.

Book Review | Circling the Sun by Paula McLain

circlesunAuthour:
Paula McLain
Format:
Advance Reader Copy, 361 pages
Publication date:
July 28th 2015
Publisher:
Ballantine Books
Source:
Received from publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Review:
Before reading Paula McLain’s Circling the Sun, I wasn’t entirely familiar with who Beryl Markham was or what she did. Additionally, I was only vaguely familiar with the setting of Circling the Sun because of the movie, Out of Africa. Thus for those of you, who similar to me aren’t familiar with who Beryl Markham was, she was the first woman to successfully fly across the Atlantic from east to west. This in itself was an astonishing feat when you consider the time period she lived in on top of what the expected role of British women was during this era.

Though I never grew attached to or felt a connection to Beryl in the book, I did find her voice throughout the novel to have an authentic feel to it. The prose throughout the novel was breathtaking whether it was the descriptions of wildlife and nature or the descriptions of the feelings Beryl felt as she raced and trained horses and flew planes. Throughout it all, it felt as if I was right there beside her experiencing and witnessing all the events that the narrator was going through.

I suppose part of the reason the narrator’s voice in addition to the story in Circling the Sun felt incredibly authentic was probably for the reason that it was evident that the authour herself put an enormous amount of work and research into it. Having met and heard the authour speak with reference to her writing process, including how she travelled to Kenya to visit several of the sites that held a connection to Beryl Markham; it is obvious that this novel was a labour of love for her. Another interesting item was how the authour spoke on the subject of how she felt a connection to Beryl since both their moms left them when they were kids and came back into their lives when they were in their 20s.

Thus while Circling the Sun was an extremely well-written book, it wasn’t the book for me. As much as I adore historical fiction, I prefer novels that focus on character relationships. Circling the Sun however, appeared to focus more on Beryl’s career rather than her various relationships and romantic encounters which felt like they were glossed over to make Beryl the character to be a more likeable person than the real life Beryl had been. That being assumed, if you desire a historical read featuring a strong, independent woman you may consider picking up this book. And if you do decide to pick up this book, I’d also recommend you listen to the soundtrack to the Out of Africa movie as it truly adds to the reading experience.

Regardless of how this book came into my possession, the above review consists of my honest opinion of the book and my opinion only.

Book Review | After the War is Over by Jennifer Robson

afterwarAuthour:
Jennifer Robson
Format:
Trade Paperback, 353 pages
Publication date:
January 6th 2015
Publisher:
William Morrow
Source:
Received from publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Review:

“From now on, she resolved, she would try to remember that life could be more than work and study and serious-minded contemplation of society’s failings. She could know joy, and light, and relief from sadness.” (p. 141)

For some reason if truth be told I tend to enjoy historical fiction that has been marketed towards fans of Downton Abbey even though I have no intention of starting that show. Nevertheless, Jennifer Robson’s Great War series is no exception, and though I loved the first book, I was extra eager for her second book After the War since it features Charlotte’s story.

I adored the Lilly, who was the protagonist in Somewhere in France. However, I found Charlotte a much more relatable character for the reason that she an educated woman, and she does not wish to be married just for the reason that it is what women during her time were expected to do. And while I do love romance, I appreciated the fact that we become acquainted with Charlotte as a person outside of her relationships while witnessing her transform into an independent woman and an activist. This makes the romance in the book even more fulfilling since Charlotte and Edward’s relationship is based on their mutual respect of one another. From the start, they both push each other to be the best versions of themselves.

I also loved how this book seamlessly switches between the present i.e. events after the first book and the past to when Edward and Charlotte first met and when she was Lilly’s governess. It was quite sweet to observe the lengths Edward went to ensure his sister, Lilly received a superior education. And I also absolutely adored getting a glimpse at a different type of family dynamic, especially with Charlotte and her parents. It refreshing to observe warm and loving family relationships, especially after witnessing how mostly distant, cold and stern Lilly and Edward’s parents were towards their children (even though it’s probably what was commonplace at that time and for families of their social status). The best example that truly illustrates this point is an incredibly touching scene in the book between Charlotte and her father that definitely made me tear up a bit.

All in all, I loved this book since I got to revisit my favourite characters from the first book and observing how characters such as Robbie and Charlotte bond over their similar situations. And while I found a few things to be resolved rather quickly near the conclusion, and I kind of missed the letters that were commonplace in Somewhere in France I did however enjoy watching the characters interact with each other further in person in this book. Additionally, I enjoyed reading the various column pieces that Charlotte writes on social issues that she feels strongly about.

After the War is probably one of my favourite books that I have read thus far this year, and I would highly recommend it to fans of historical fiction and those of historical romance. What’s best concerning this book is that you do not need to read Somewhere on France first though I would recommend you read both for a greater reading experience.

Regardless of how this book came into my possession, the above review consists of my honest opinion of the book and my opinion only.

If you love historical fiction…

SS

For more info on the book: http://books.simonandschuster.ca/Kings-Curse/Philippa-Gregory/9781451626117

Philippa’s website: www.philippagregory.com

Chapter excerpt: http://issuu.com/touchstonebooks/docs/the_king_s_curse

The publisher was kind enough to provide me a copy of the book, as well as two tickets to the event to giveaway. If you are interested and are a resident of Canada leave a comment below before September 19, 2014, telling us why you would like to win or look for the tweet on twitter and retweet and follow to be entered. The winner will be selected at random. Good Luck!

Book Review | The Valley of Amazement by Amy Tan

Authour:valleyamaze
Amy Tan
Format:
Advance Reader Copy, 589 pages
Publication date:
November 5th 2013
Publisher:
Harpercollins
Source:
Received from publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Synopsis:

Moving between the dazzling world of courtesans in turn of the century Shanghai, a remote Chinese mountain village, and the rough-hewn streets of nineteenth-century San Francisco, Amy Tan’s sweeping new novel maps the lives of three generations of women connected by blood and history-and the mystery of an evocative painting known as “The Valley of Amazement.”

Violet is one of the most celebrated courtesans in Shanghai, a beautiful and intelligent woman who has honed her ability to become any man’s fantasy since her start as a “Virgin Courtesan” at the age of twelve. Half-Chinese and half-American, she moves effortlessly between the East and the West. But her talents belie her private struggle to understand who she really is and her search for a home in the world. Abandoned by her mother, Lucia, and uncertain of her father’s identity, Violet’s quest to truly love and be loved will set her on a path fraught with danger and complexity-and the loss of her own daughter.

Lucia, a willful and wild American woman who was once herself the proprietress of Shanghai’s most exclusive courtesan house, nurses her own secret wounds, which she first sustained when, as a teenager, she fell in love with a Chinese painter and followed him from San Francisco to Shanghai. Her search for penance and redemption will bring her to a startling reunion with Flora, Violet’s daughter, and will shatter all that Violet believed she knew about her mother.

Spanning fifty years and two continents, The Valley of Amazement is a deeply moving narrative of family secrets, the legacy of trauma, and the profound connections between mothers and daughters, that returns readers to the compelling territory Amy Tan so expertly mapped in The Joy Luck Club. With her characteristic wisdom, grace, and humor, she conjures a story of the inheritance of love, its mysteries and senses, its illusions and truths.

Review:

Okay confession time I’m probably one of the very few who haven’t read Tan’s previous well known novel The Joy Luck Club. I mean I have heard of it and I have read many books with similar themes of mother-daughter relationships and the Chinese immigrant experience but for some reason haven’t read anything by Amy Tan until now

The Valley of Amazement by Amy Tan set in the early 20th century and it is a story mostly about the life of Violet Minturn, a half Chinese, half American girl living in China. Separated from her American mother at an early age, Violet is left with no choice but to become a “virgin courtesan”. This was during a time where being a courtesan was a career for women with no other alternatives. They were however afforded much more freedom than other Chinese women during this time which is really sad if you think about it.

While I was initially excited to read this book, my excitement died down when I discovered it was about the world of courtesans. However after a very strong start that did not die down, I am felt myself being bewitched by Violet’s story. Tan’s writing is really lovely and it sweeps you away to this time period as you follow the characters from Shanghai to the countryside in China to San Francisco. Throughout the novel I felt like I had become part of their world as I got to bear witness to a lot of behind the scenes stuff that you don’t usually get to read about in your history textbooks. The packaging and the design for this book is stunningly gorgeous for both arc and finished copy which makes it a perfect match for the story contained within.

One of my favourite things about this book was the relationships between many of the women in the book. In particular I loved the relationship between Violet and Magic Gourd especially how over time Magic Gourd became a surrogate mother to Violet. The two of them also worked very well as a team and I loved the chapter entitled “Etiquette For Beauties of the Boudoir” which is basically Magic Gourd teaching Violet how to be the best courtesan. I also liked the parts where we get to read about Violet mother’s story because we get the true story of how Golden Dove and Violet’s mother met and came to work together. I found that their relationship mirrored the relationship between Magic Gourd and Violet which made the story all the more interesting. The only thing I disliked about this book was how the adult Violet was so easily tricked like her mother was at the beginning of the story though I know it was necessary for the sake of the story.

The Valley of Amazement is an elegant account of the complicated world of courtesans in China and how one girl struggles to come to terms with whom she is and who her mother is. This was one book that broke my heart before putting it back together only to break it again. And although parts of it reminded me of Memoirs of a Geisha, I ended up liking this book much more. I would highly recommend this book if you like historical fiction especially those set in China.

If you like this book, you’ll love: The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert (my review)

Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars

Regardless of how this book came into my possession, the above review consists of my honest opinion of the book and my opinion only.