Review: THE NIGHTINGALE by Kristin Hannah

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Publishing on February 3 is a book that is destined to be one of my top picks for 2015. THE NIGHTINGALE is a story of two French sisters during WWII. Each sister does whatever she can to survive, and their story is both riveting and heart-breaking. I could not put this book down!

Without giving away the whole story line, this novel basically follows two sisters throughout the occupation of France in WWII. One sister, Viann, has a young daughter and her husband is sent to fight. She is determined to keep their family home going and to keep her daughter safe until her husband returns. The other sister, Isabelle, has always been the black sheep. She is young and impetuous, but she is also strong and courageous. She joins the Resistance and works to bring downed allied airmen over the Pyrenees into Spain. The sisters clash and fight and are so completely different, yet at the same time they love each other and want to help each other. Each faces the horrible reality of the war with her own way of coping.

I have to say that when I read this, I identified so strongly with Viann. When I was younger, I might have been more of an Isabelle, but Viann’s struggle to just get by and keep going and to protect her daughter at all costs — I could just imagine myself in her shoes. She was willing to suffer at great lengths as long as it meant that her daughter was safe. However, that doesn’t mean that she did nothing or just went along with the atrocities she was witnessing. One thing I loved about this book is that these characters were so multi-layered. There’s a whole back story involving their mother, which I won’t go in to, that had shaped them, as well as their relationship with their father in Paris. I truly loved these characters even though their story made me weep at times.

If you like WWII novels, and especially if you enjoy reading about ordinary people doing extraordinary things, pick up a copy of THE NIGHTINGALE. This was my first Kristin Hannah book, but it won’t be my last!

Thank you, Net Galley, for my ARC!

Review: THE AFTER HOUSE by Michael Phillip Cash

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I pulled this ghost story from Net Galley as I thought it looked intriguing. The main character is a young mother who is trying to rebuild her life after a terrible divorce from an abusive husband. She gets a place on Long Island not far from her parents, but the historic cottage comes with the ghost of a sea-captain. Remy is trying to start a new life, make new friends, work, be a mom, and she also starts up a romance with a local historian who has all sorts of information about the house and its past occupants. Then in the middle of all this, someone is trying to kill her.

This one is a bit tough for me to review as I really liked some parts of it and was confused by others. I liked the main premise: starting over, new life, “you can do it!” theme. I liked the chapters covering the past with the sea captain’s life. I had known of Nantucket and New Bedford as centers for whaling, but I didn’t realize that whalers went from Long Island, too. I would have enjoyed even more of the past with historical facts, etc.

Here’s what I struggled with: Remy’s parents, especially her father, were incredibly over-protective. They treated her like she was 15 not in her thirties. Perhaps there are parents like that out there, but it seemed odd to me that they were treating their adult daughter who has a daughter of her own like she was a teenager. They also kept saying terrible things about her ex-husband (e.g. “I never liked that guy” etc)  which seemed juvenile and a little unrealistic to me. Then the ghost was a bit confusing — on one hand he was kind of scary, but then that didn’t work well so he turned nice. It almost seemed like the poor ghost was having an identity crisis. Added onto this were two additional ghosts or spirits or angels or something. To be honest, when they weren’t in the story (as observers) I’d forget they were even there, then a chapter would pop up with them discussing what they were looking at in terms of humans and sea-captain ghost. I’m not sure what their role was as it seemed like one was earning her wings, so to speak — maybe help get the sea captain to eternal rest after all these years? I don’t know.

Anyhow, I think this is one of those books that most will either like or not finish. I finished it but am mixed in how much I liked it.

Thanks, Net Galley, for my copy!

YA Review: THE WICKED AWAKENING OF ANNE MERCHANT by Joanna Wiebe

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Last year at this time I read and reviewed THE UNSEEMLY EDUCATION OF ANNE MERCHANT (see review here: https://drbethnolan.wordpress.com/2014/01/19/ya-review-the-unseemly-education-of-anne-merchant-by-joanna-wiebe/).

I liked it, so when the folks at Ben Bella Books offered me the next book in the series, I said yes please!

This novel, book 2 in the trilogy, picks up whether the first one left off. Anne is still fighting for her life, so to speak, and trying to work out her relationship with Ben and save him, too. This installment spends a lot of time giving more background and fleshing out the story of Anne and her family, her powers, etc. To be honest, I didn’t care for this book as much as the first, largely because I felt there was a lot of dialogue. Whenever there was action, though, especially at the end, I could scarcely put it down. I also got confused about what characters were what, given that some used more than one name. And to be honest, this story had a lot more about the demons in it, and demons really aren’t my thing (though I have lots of friends who love paranormal type reading with demons, etc.). I’m more of a ghost or psychic powers person.

Anyway, just wanted to be honest! I still look forward to the next and final book in this series to see how intelligent and fiery Anne will solve her problems!

Thank you for my review copy (I love the cover)!

HFVB Tour of THE SCHOOL OF NIGHT by Colin Falconer

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So happy today to be part of THE SCHOOL OF NIGHT blog tour to review Colin Falconer’s first book in the “William Shakespeare Detective Agency” series.

William Shakespeare is not that William Shakespeare; he is his cousin from the countryside, come to London to visit cousin Will and find something worthwhile to do as he escapes drudgery as a glovemaker. William has a bit of penchant for attracting trouble and he is hardly in town long before he’s disgruntled his cousin (with whom he is staying) and been requested to find a lovely young woman’s missing husband. Peril exists at every corner and William must use his strengths (both physical and mental) to figure out the mystery and set things right.

I really enjoyed this book – the start of a series. William has a dry wit and makes little asides to the reader throughout that are quite humorous – I particularly like his takes on the people and conditions of London back in the day.

Mr. Falconer is a fairly prolific historical fiction author. Here’s some info on him from HFVB tours:

Born in London, Colin first trialed as a professional football player in England, and was eventually brought to Australia. He went to Sydney and worked in TV and radio and freelanced for many of Australia’s leading newspapers and magazines. He has published over twenty novels and his work has so far been translated into 23 languages.

He travels regularly to research his novels and his quest for authenticity has led him to run with the bulls in Pamplona, pursue tornadoes across Oklahoma and black witches across Mexico, go cage shark diving in South Africa and get tear gassed in a riot in La Paz.

He currently lives in Barcelona.

I look forward to reading the next installment in this series. Thank you for my review copy!

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AUDIOBOOK REVIEW: The Daring Ladies of Lowell by Kate Alcott

Since I have a bit of commute for school pick-up, I’ve been listening to more audiobooks in the car these past few months. I get them from the local library. Recently I listened to “The Daring Ladies of Lowell” by Kate Alcott (author of The Dressmaker – which I also listened to on audio) which is read by Cassandra Campbell.

I live near the Lowell Mills and I have always found their history fascinating. In this novel, Alice Barrow moves to Lowell to work in the mills. She is a fairly typical “mill girl”, having left her family farm for work in the city and some independence. Alice lives in a boarding house (very typical of the time) with several other mill girls. Then one of them is found dead — suicide is suspected but it turns to murder. Alice becomes involved in the trial and in trying to bring her friend’s murderer to justice. Along the way, the girls are fighting for better working conditions and health protection, and Alice finds herself falling in love with the son of the mill owner.

The following contains SPOILERS!

I enjoyed listening to this book. I have to say I was a bit freaked out by the health issues some of the girls had that I was unaware of — coughing up “cotton balls” of lint from breathing it in during production, and eventually having their lungs ruined. That was quite disturbing. Lovey’s murder is also quite disturbing – she is pregnant and the number one suspect is an itinerant minister. Interestingly, this part of the novel was based on the real life murder of a mill girl, and Alcott even used the trial testimony and some real names. (In real life, though, the murder took place in Fall River – still in Massachusetts but not Lowell).

The only thing that didn’t “work” for me in this story was the romance. It seemed fairly improbable that the mill owner’s son would fall in love with a worker (and I don’t mean “lust after” but truly “fall in love”). The class divide was pretty great in those days and the working class was often “invisible” to the wealthy. It was fine; I just had to suspend my disbelief during those scenes!

Here’s a great article from the Globe about the real murder in Massachusetts that this is based on and how Ms. Alcott came to write about it:

http://www.bostonglobe.com/arts/books/2014/04/19/the-real-life-murder-behind-novel-about-lowell-mills/bvMBFwckjExNWEGkS87zvI/story.html

You can see this book on Indie Bound where I am an Affiliate:

Find it at an Indie!

DREAMING SPIES Giveaway!

Laurie R. King has a series of books about Sherlock Holmes and his wife Mary Russell as they solve various mysteries. I read the latest one (review coming soon – closer to Pub Day in February) last week and just loved it! If you know me, you know I’m a HUGE Holmes fan, and I really liked the addition of a younger, intelligent wife to his story.

DREAMING SPIES is the title of the upcoming novel (a take, I believe, on “dreaming spires of Oxford” as the story takes place in part there). Random House is hosting a fabu giveaway of a mini iPad with ALL Laurie’s books loaded onto it, included this latest title. There are other prizes as well!

You can see the giveaway here:

http://atrandom.com/dreaming-spies/

Good luck — entering is just elementary! (okay – I had to say that!!)