Quick Review: The Sandalwood Tree by Elle Newmark

Having heard about this novel through the blogosphere, I picked it up at the library one day and then it sat on my coffee table. I finally got around to opening it the other day and I was so mesmerized that I couldn’t stop reading. It was one of those moments when your inner voice is saying: “….must….put….book….down” and your body just won’t comply. I read the whole book straight through.

“The Sandalwood Tree” tells two stories a century apart. Evie and Martin, along with their young son, have come to India in 1947 as the British reign is ending. Martin is deeply scarred by his WWII experiences and it has caused a tear in their marriage that Evie fears is irreparable. While staying in their rented house, Evie finds a packet of letters between two British women who lived in India in 1857. The letters tell of their friendship and of their loves. Evie becomes somewhat obsessed with finding out what happened to the women, Felicity and Adela, as she also puts her energies into saving her marriage.

This was a compelling and well-written read with beautiful descriptions of that period in India’s history. As I said before, I couldn’t put it down!

View the somewhat dramatic book trailer from You Tube:

Review: Mr. Rosenblum Dreams in English by Natasha Solomons

My friend Dawn of “She Is Too Fond of Books” gave me a copy of “Mr. Rosenblum Dreams in English” one day when we were having tea together. I started this book, then lost it in my bedside pile of books, finding it again and finishing it recently. I just loved this charming novel which was originally published in Great Britain as “Mr. Rosenblum’s List”.

In this story, Jack and his wife Sadie, along with daughter Elizabeth, have come to England as German Jewish refugees during WWII. He is given a list created for refugees of ways that they can acclimate to life in England. Mr. Rosenblum takes this list to heart and adds items of his own of what a “proper English gentleman” should do. His wife, Sadie, however, still holds emotional ties to Germany and her lost family there. Over time Jack builds a business, shops at the “right” stores, and acts and dresses like an Englishman. His final quest is to join a golf club. However, being Jewish, entry is denied to him again and again. Being a resourceful man, Jack takes matters in his own hands and decides to build his own golf course. He moves his family to Dorset and begins to single-handedly – and by hand – put in a golf course in the wild English countryside.Will his determination see him through?

I just loved this charming book, which is actually based in part on Ms. Solomons’ grandparents experience. While it was humorous, it was also poignant. Sadie’s difficulties in letting go of the past and her willingness to stand by Jack, against her better judgment, was touching. Seeing Elizabeth grow up into a Englishwoman, fully acclimated to her new country, made me think of how many families had similar experiences after the war. But Jack is the hero of this book. You can’t help but root for him as he realizes that friendship and acceptance and identity are all things that can be cultured, but that also come undeniably, in part, from within.

Quick Review: Tick, Tock by James Patterson and Michael Ledwidge

I enjoy James Patterson mysteries. When I saw “Tick Tock”, his latest Michael Bennett novel, on the new release shelf at the library I could not help but grab it. This is typical Patterson fare: quick-moving and easy to read. I read my copy in one evening.

This, I believe, is the fourth Michael Bennett mystery. Bennett is a tough NY police detective, widower, and father to a diverse brood of ten adopted children. His grandfather, Seamus – an Irish priest, and Mary Catherine, his attractive Irish nanny, round out the adult regulars in these novels. Bennett’s family and personal life form a back story to the crime that is the center of the novel. In this installment, a copy cat killer is loose in NYC, planting bombs and brutally murdering people. Bennett must figure out the connection between crimes and victims and then stop the killer.

As always, a quick read. Glad I got it from the library, though. Fans of Patterson will probably enjoy it. I’d love to see a movie made of this character as I’d find the family situation interesting and fun on-screen.

REVIEW: The Paris Wife by Paula McLain

For my birthday, I purchased “The Paris Wife” by Paula McLain. I had read a sample on my Kindle and enjoyed it — actually I had enjoyed it more than I thought I would. I am so thrilled that I bought this book as I found it both compelling and memorable.

“The Paris Wife” tells the story of Hadley Richardson, the first wife of Ernest Hemingway, and their time together in Paris when Ernest was struggling to get his writing career off the ground. Please note – the following contains many SPOILERS!

Hadley and Ernest’s relationship starts off with a bit of a bang, when she meets him at a friend’s home and the two of them fall quickly for each other. Hadley, a quiet young woman several years Ernest’s senior, has few prospects in her current life, and is living off a modest trust fund and staying with her sister’s family. Ernest enchants her and makes her feel special and desired. Their relationship is shown in such intimate details – primarily through Hadley’s eyes – that you feel almost as if you are a voyeur. Hadley holds great devotion for Ernest, and while he does love her, one realizes that Ernest’s greatest desire is to meet his own needs to actualize his own genius. Hadley’s own personality is almost entirely eclipsed by Ernest’s and her needs are subsumed by his. The backdrop of their relationship is the post WWI years in Europe, as they travel with a famous and bohemian crowd (including such greats as Gertrude Stein and F. Scott Fitzgerald). Hadley and Ernest spend time in Paris and then travel throughout the year to Spain and southern France as Ernest gathers ideas and impetus for his writing. In time, their son Bumby is born, but it is a change to their marriage that Hadley welcomes and Ernest does not.

Hadley was a character that I related to and had empathy for. She never truly fit with Ernest’s author/artist friends as she was conventional in nature. She did truly love him, though, and his betrayal of her was incredibly painful to witness. As Ernest grew to love Hadley’s best friend, she tried to first save her marriage, and then to accept Pauline as her partner with Ernest, but in the end Hadley chose to release Ernest. I wondered if Hadley felt she was letting him go, or realizing that she never truly held him in the first place.

McLain’s writing style was lovely to read. Her prose is beautiful and evocative and the settings are portrayed vividly. Hadley’s emotions and thoughts are portrayed in a way that lets us understand her. I love a book that keeps me thinking about the characters long after I read it, and this is one of those books.

REVIEW: Dreams of Joy by Lisa See

As you readers know, I love, love, love Lisa See’s books and her latest, “Dreams of Joy”, is a wonderful addition to her novels. Written as a sequel to “Shanghai Girls”, “Dreams of Joy” takes up where that story left off and follows Joy, Pearl, and May as they struggle to maintain their relationships amidst the changing political climate of China. 

(May Contain Spoilers!) At the start of the book, Joy – May’s nineteen-year-old daughter – learns that May is her biological mother (not her aunt as she had always thought) and that Pearl is actually her aunt. Sam, the only father she has known, has recently committed suicide (in part due to allegations he suffered from the government) and Joy decides to leave her family and return to China (now strictly under Communist regime) to find and get to know her biological father, the artist Z.G. Joy’s journey is not an easy one, and she soon finds herself out in the countryside with her father, while he teaches art to peasants as part of his assignment. Pearl, meanwhile, takes the first opportunity to go to China to find Joy. While this story feels in part like an adventure as Pearl searches for Joy and then the group tries to get out of China, it really is a story of relationships – and specifically of the love between women – as mother/daughter and sister/sister – and also of the amazing tenacity and strength that women have.

I just loved this book. I found all the characters engaging and interesting, from the main characters of Pearl and Joy, to the peasants in the community where they lived. I always find it interesting to read of historical periods, and I really didn’t know too much about what daily life was like in China during these years of Mao’s regime. Ms. See portrays the life of the commoner, and the horrific famine that existed, with stark and deliberate detail. Her scenes of devastation are painted so vividly that they stay with you after you are done reading. Most of all, though, I love a story where intelligence and strength combine to help a person through. Joy changed so much throughout the story, but Pearl was the beacon of strength and maternal love throughout. By the end, both women had learned more about themselves and their bond with each other and to May. Joy’s new baby daughter completes the circle, yet continues it.

I know some people may find the ending a bit incredible. But to me, it ended just as I hoped. In my opinion, life doesn’t always give us happy endings, so I look for them in books.

If you are a fan of Lisa See, and especially if you’ve read “Shanghai Girls”, then don’t miss this latest novel!

(my copy was pre-ordered for my Kindle)

Here’s a quickie book trailer from You Tube:

(Quick) YA Review: Kimchi and Calamari by Rose Kent

While shopping for our school library at the Scholastic warehouse nearby, we picked up this little gem of a book. “Kimchi and Calamari” centers on 14-year-old Joseph Calderaro, a Korean boy adopted in infancy into a NJ Italian family. Joseph struggles with his identity and his unknown past when his English teacher assigns his class to write about their family’s past. Joseph creates a fictional story based on an Olympic athlete, which gets him into hot water when his essay is selected as a winner for a local contest. He also secretly posts on a Korean adoptee website in an effort to track down his birth mother.

This was such a charming book to read. I couldn’t help but like Joseph right from the onset as he endured the daily ups and downs of your typical 8th grader: friends, girls, little sisters, and family matters. Joseph’s quest to better understand him past and thus himself is a touching one, and one I would think many adopted individuals would relate to. Kent does a good job in making Joseph believable and likable, and I appreciate that while the story has a happy and positive ending, she does not tie up all the loose ends in a neat package with a bow on top!

This would make a good summer read for 5th through 7th graders, in my opinion, especially if you are looking for a male protagonist and for something in the realistic fiction genre.

Quick Review of a Kindle Freebie: Still Life with Murder – a Nell Sweeney Mystery – by P.B. Ryan

I’m always on the lookout for a good Kindle freebie, so I was excited to find this cozy on Kindle for *free*! This is the first of the Nell Sweeney historical mysteries by P B Ryan. Nell is a feisty young Irish woman, living in Boston just after the Civil War. Nell becomes the governess to the wealthy Hewitt family and helps their opium-addicted eldest son – once believed dead but now accused of murder.

I liked this historical cozy – though I felt it dragged at times in the middle of the novel. I always like a strong heroine and, living near to Boston, I enjoy reading about the city. This is the first in a series (formerly called the “Gilded Age Mysteries”).

YA Book Review: The Storyteller by Patricia Reilly Giff

Patricia Reilly Giff is one of those children’s authors who has written numerous titles and seems like an old friend. When we were purchasing books at the Scholastic Warehouse sale for our school library birthday book program, I came across “Storyteller”. I wasn’t aware of too many YA titles by Ms. Giff, so I took it home to read. This novel  tells the story of two Elizabeths – one who lives now and her ancestor “Zee” who lived during the Revolutionary War. When modern-day Elizabeth goes to stay with her aunt in New York state one summer, she is drawn to an old drawing of the first Elizabeth and becomes focused on learning her story. The two girls’ stories are juxtaposed, and readers move in time from present to past.

I enjoyed reading this novel and finished it in one evening. I did find the harsh realities of war at times disturbing – Zee is badly burned in a fire and her home destroyed and her mother murdered (there is a somewhat sinister passage where the mother is surrounded by a group of men who are destroying their home while she yells at her daughter to run away; later a family friend reports to Zee that her mother is dead). I wasn’t at all familiar with the Battle of Oriskany, which occurs  in this novel, too (where a group of Patriots are ambushed and slaughtered while travelling through a gorge). For these reasons, I think this novel is best suited for middle schoolers. Using this in a classroom where you could also study daily life during the Revolution and talk about the events in this book would be ideal.

Historical period aside, young readers will enjoy the two Elizabeths’ stories as both girls learn to deal with changes in their life and recognize their gifts as storytellers. I look forward to more YA titles from Ms. Giff!

Review: The Peach Keeper by Sarah Addison Allen

My Kindle suggested that I would like “The Peach Keeper” by Sarah Addison Allen, so I downloaded a sample. I found myself immediately pulled into the story, so I purchased it. “The Peach Keeper” tells the story of two 30-year-old women in North Carolina: down to earth Willa Jackson – who owns a natural products hiking store/coffee shop – and Paxton Osgood – the head of the ladies society who still lives at home (though in her parents’ pool house). Paxton has worked to renovate a lovely estate, the Blue Ridge Madam, once owned by Willa’s family and is hosting a gala event for her ladies society. When Paxton reaches out to Willa to attend, the past is re-opened, and their relationship and that of their grandmothers are re-examined in a new and extraordinary light.

I really enjoyed reading this novel! It had some mystery to it (a skeleton is found while renovating the Madam) as well as some light romance (both Willa and Paxton has love interests that they are fighting against). There was also an air of mystical realism in this story: the smell of peaches, a ghost that haunts them, pictures moving to places where they weren’t put, etc.

I hadn’t read anything else by Ms. Allen, but this novel made me want to!

If you enjoy stories about women and the relationships they forge – as well as they strength they convey – then you’ll probably enjoy this book!

Check out the book trailer! (via You Tube – also found on Amazon)