Tag: history

Book Review: If You Want to Make God Laugh, by Bianca Marais

if you want to make God laugh
Image belongs to G.P. Putnam’s Sons.

 

Title:   If You Want to Make God Laugh
Author:   Bianca Marais
Genre:   Fiction
Rating:   4.5 out of 5

In the 1990s, Zodwa is a 17-year-old girl living in a squatter’s camp on the outskirts of Johannesburg with her mother. The constant threat of civil war and the disappearance of her brother years ago haunts their every step. Overwhelming poverty casts its shadow over their lives—as does the growing AIDS epidemic. And Zodwa, once the hope of her mother, is pregnant.

Ruth might be wealthy, but she’s far from happy. She knows her husband wants a divorce, and when her drinking leads her places she never intended, she ends up living on the empty family farm outside Johannesburg…where the sister she hasn’t seen for decades arrives unannounced. Delilah is a disgraced former nun haunted by a past she’s never spoken of, a past her sister knows nothing about. When they find an abandoned baby on their porch, they are confronted with their own beliefs about motherhood, race, and the secrets of the past.

If You Want to Make God Laugh is not a book meant for light reading. There are some very heavy topics here, and these three women have experienced truly terrible things. They might be broken, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t strong. Poverty and violence shadow their lives and the life of their community. The setting, on the cusp of Nelson Mandela’s presidency in South Africa, is torn by conflict, war, and disease. However, this is a wonderful, wonderful read.

Bianca Marais is from South Africa but now lives in Toronto. If You Want to Make God Laugh is her newest novel.

(Galley courtesy of G.P. Putnam’s Sons via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.)

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Book Review: Bethlehem, by Karen Kelly

bethlehem
Image belongs to St. Martin’s Press.

Title:   Bethlehem
Author:   Karen Kelly
Genre:   Historical fiction
Rating:   4.5 out of 5

In the 1960s, Frank and Joanna have moved their two children to Bethlehem, where his mother and grandmother live alone in a grand mansion. Frank works all the time, and Joanna struggles to scratch out a place for herself with a husband who’s always away. Her working-class background leaves her unprepared for Frank’s wealthy home, but she finds a friend in cemetery caretaker Doe, an old friend of Joanna’s mother-in-law—and her enigmatic grandson.

In the 1920s steel town of Bethlehem, the Parrish and Collier families have grown up together. Susannah, a budding flapper on the verge of adulthood, has always known the families expected her to marry Ellis, but then she falls hard for someone she never imagined. When unthinkable tragedy tears her world apart, she’s left holding secrets that can destroy both families.

This book was a slow, smooth ride into story. The two timelines were twisted together so well that they formed one incredibly detailed tapestry. I enjoyed every single page of this book and was so invested in the characters I cried!  A must-read!

Karen Kelly has a B.A. in English from Vanderbilt. Bethlehem is her newest novel.

(Galley courtesy of St. Martin’s Press via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.)

The Best Books I Read in June (2019)

I read 20 books in June, bringing my total to the year for 102 books read.

I have to say, this was a case of quantity, not necessarily quality, as there were a few books that I really enjoyed, but most were just solid to mediocre reads.

That being said, two of my monthly goal books and one of the last books I read for review for the month were outstanding.

at the water's edge

At the Water’s Edge, by Sara Gruen. This was my cultural pick of the month. Which, admittedly, was fudging it a bit, since the heroine is American and the books starts in New York in 1942. But…socialite Maddie and her horrid husband, Ellis, and his best friend, Hank, end up in Scotland in search of the Loch Ness monster, so I rationalized it. Fantastic, engrossing book! I would love to go to Loch Ness, and Gruen’s prose is top-notch. Highly recommend this!

backseat saints

Backseat Saints, by Joshilyn Jackson.  This  was from my TBR pile. I discovered Joshilyn Jackson when I read gods in Alabama for the first time several years ago (and re-read it last year and was just as entranced). This was when I discovered Southern fiction was a thing. I’ve read several of her books now–and cannot wait to review her upcoming novel, Never Have I Ever, at the end of the month. Backseat Saints takes a minor character from gods in Alabama and explores her very challenging life. Joshilyn Jackson is an auto buy for me, and that’s a really short list, so…

the stationary shop

The Stationary Shop, by Marjan Kamali. I’m still emotionally reeling from reading this, so I’m not sure I can talk coherently about it. Most of this takes place in 1953 Tehran, when Roya and Bahman fall in love on the edge of a revolution. it’s…not a happy book, which I realzied immediately. Usually, I would have chosen not to finish what I knew would be a sad read, but this was so good that I continued reading.

 

 

Book Review: The Stationery Shop, by Marjan Kamali

the stationary shop
Image belongs to Gallery Books.

 

Title:   The Stationery Shop
Author:  Marjan Kamali
Genre:   Historical Fiction
Rating:   4.5 out of 5

Roya is a teenager in 1953 Tehran. Her nation is on the verge of revolution, and she finds comfort within the walls of Mr. Fakhri’s stationery and bookstore. Mr. Fakhri introduces her to his other favorite customer—Bahman—whose desire to help change Tehran burns bright.

Soon Roya and Bahman are in love and engaged to be married. Their love for each other gives them hope even in the dark days surrounding them. When they are separated, Roya wants to find out what happened, but constant letters from Bahman comfort her. When he asks her to meet him in the square so they can be married, she is ecstatic. But violence erupts and Bahman never shows, and she never hears from him again.

Life must go on, but years later, a chance meeting gives her the opportunity ask the questions that have haunted her since her youth:  why didn’t he show up in that square? Why didn’t he love her enough?

As a general rule, I prefer not to read books that I know will be sad. I knew this book did not have a happy ending, but it was so good I read it anyway. The Iranian culture comes to life on these pages, but even more so does Roya and Bahman’s love for each other. Such a wonderful read!

Marjan Kamali was born in Turkey and has lived all over the world. The Stationery Shop is her newest novel.

(Galley courtesy of Gallery Books via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.)

 

Book Review: Time After Time, by Lisa Grunwald

time after time
Image belongs to Random House.

Title:  Time After Time
Author:  Lisa Grunwald
Genre:  Fiction
Rating:  4 out of 5

In the Great Depression, Joe Reynolds’s life revolves around Grand Central Terminal and his brother’s family. Joe lives and breathes Grand Central and his job there with the railroad, but one December morning, he meets Nora Lansing, a Manhattan socialite whose flapper clothing and talk of the Roaring Twenties just don’t make sense. When she vanishes as Joe tries to walk her home, he is intrigued—and determined to find her again.

And he does, on another cold December morning. Nora is an aspiring artist who wants to live her own life, and Joe is fascinated by her. When Nora realizes she’s somehow become trapped in Grand Central and its community, she’s determined to make the best of the life she’s been given. She and Joe create a life there in the terminal, their love making their world feel bigger than it actually is.

Until construction of another city landmark threatens their life, and Joe and Nora must decide to face the future or cling to the life they’ve created.

I have no idea what I was expecting from this book—but reading it was a surprise. I’ve always loved reading about the 20’s, so I loved that, and the idea of an entire civilization in Grand Central Terminal was fascinating. Seeing Joe and Nora grow as the years passed was beautiful—and heartbreaking. A lovely read!

Lisa Grunwald is an author and editor. Time After Time is her newest novel.

(Galley courtesy of Random House via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.)

Book Review: Bonavere Howl, by Caitlin Galway

bonavere howl
Image belongs to Guernica Editions.

Title:  Bonavere Howl
Author:  Caitlin Galway
Genre:  Historical fiction, middle grade
Rating:  3.5 out of 5

In New Orleans in 1955, the languid heat presses down on everything. Thirteen-year-old Bonavere, the youngest of the Bonavere sisters, has her best friend Saul to turn to and her two older sisters. Her parents pay the sisters no mind, even when middle sister Constance goes missing.

Some of the blame falls on Saul and his family because of their race, but Bonavere knows that isn’t true, so she sets out to find what really happened to Constance. Her questions lead her to the wealthy Lasalle family, and stories of girls found half-mad in the nearby swamps. Bonavere has no idea what secrets she’ll stir up when she starts asking questions. She just wants her sister back.

I’ll read just about anything set in New Orleans, and this novel captures the feel of the city very well:  the heat, the cobbled streets, the craziness…However, most of the story itself is a bit inexplicable to me. Things happened, but I couldn’t always see the connection to them and anything else, and I’m still not sure exactly what was going on.

Caitlin Galway’s newest novel is Bonavere Howl.

(Galley courtesy of Guernica Editions via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.)

Book Review: How We Disappeared, by Jing-Jing Lee

how we disappeared
Image belongs to Hanover Square Press.

Title:  How We Disappeared
Author:  Jing-Jing Lee
Genre:  Fiction/historical fiction
Rating:  4.2 out of 5

In 1942 Singapore, the world is at war, but it becomes personal when soldiers ransack a village and murder everyone, leaving only two survivors. In a nearby village, girls are taken captive and forced to become “comfort women”—prostitutes—earning them the shame and disdain of their families—if they are fortunate enough to survive and escape. Wang Di was one of these women, and after sixty years of silence, she is finally ready to talk about the horrors she experienced.

In the year 2000, twelve-year-old Kevin is going blind, so he records everything he hears. Including the dying confession of his beloved grandmother…who isn’t really his grandmother at all. Kevin knows this secret is bigger than he is, but he’s determined to find out the truth—and share it.

How We Disappeared isn’t an easy book to read. It’s full of the sometimes-horrific experiences of these characters, but there are glimpses of hope as well. The settings are realistic—good and bad—and, though the book gets off to a slow start, it is well-worth reading.

Jing-Jing Lee is an author and a poet. How We Disappeared is her debut novel.

(Galley courtesy of Harlequin/Hanover Square Press via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.)

Book Review: The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek, by Kim Michele Richardson

the book woman
Image belongs to Sourcebooks Landmark.

Title:  The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek
Author:  Kim Michele Richardson
Genre:  Historical fiction
Rating:  5 out of 5

In 1936 Kentucky, Cussy Mary Carter is the last living woman of the Blue People. With her blue skin, she’s taunted and ridiculed and treated as inferior, but Cussy Mary is a proud member of the Kentucky Pack Horse library service. This job is her way out, an escape from needing to marry in order to survive.

For Cussy Mary, delivering books to the backwoods people on her route is more than a job. For people who rarely see a newspaper—and who are unlikely to be able to read one if they did see it—the Book Woman is a Godsend, a deliverer of outside news, and a glimmer of hope in the darkness of the woods amidst prejudice and poverty so devastating it destroys entire families. Cussy Mary is determined to continue delivering hope to those around her—along with books.

The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek is an incredible read! Yes, the blue-skinned people in Kentucky were real—they had methemoglobinemia, which caused a decrease in oxygenation of their skin. The prejudice and abuse Cussy Mary experiences in this book is heartbreaking, but so is the poverty that surrounds her. This book is vivid and lovely, with every page engraved with the strength of Cussy Mary—and her courage.

Kim Michele Richardson lives and writes in Kentucky. The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek is her newest novel.

(Galley courtesy of Sourcebooks Landmark via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.)

Book Review: Romanov, by Nadine Brandes

Romanov
Image belongs to Thomas Nelson.

Title:  Romanov
Author:  Nadine Brandes
Genre:  Historical Fiction
Rating:  4.5 out of 5

The history books say I died.

They don’t know the half of it.

With Russia in revolution, the Romanov family are held as hostages by the Bolsheviks. For Nastya—Princess Anastasia—this new world is bewildering and frustrating. Her loving family is intact and together, but they are constantly guarded by soldiers. They are barely allowed to go outside. They are constantly under watch. She doesn’t understand why the world is so bloody and dangerous, she just knows it is.

There is an element of truth in what the people say about the Romanovs, but Nastya is not a spellcaster. If she was, she could heal her brother’s hemophilia and her mother’s illness. She could stop herself from falling in love and mend her sister’s broken heart. And she could keep her family from being executed.

But this isn’t the lies spoken about her family by the Bolsheviks. This is her life. And the truth is far stranger than the history books say.

I’ve probably seen the Disney movie Anastasia at some point, but I don’t remember it, and I’ve certainly read bits and pieces about the Romanovs, none of which I remembered before picking this book up. I had no problems understanding what was going on or starting the story after the Romanovs are taken hostage. The love in this family is remarkable and portrayed so well. All the characters are well-done, but Nastya herself is both struggling and strong, and her determination to help her family is something to behold. I enjoyed this read immensely.

Nadine Brandes is the author of the Out of Time series. Romanov is her newest novel.

(Galley courtesy of Thomas Nelson via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.)

Book Review: The Things We Cannot Say, by Kelly Rimmer

the things we cannot say
Image belongs to Graydon House.

Title:  The Things We Cannot Say
Author:  Kelly Rimmer
Genre:  Fiction, historical
Rating:  5 out of 5

Alice never expected to be a stay-at-home mom, but 7-year-old Eddie is on the autism spectrum and nonverbal, and needs all the care Alice can give him, while 10-year-old Callie is smart enough to cause herself problems. So, Alice’s world revolves around her kids and her husband, until her beloved grandmother falls ill, and asks Alice to find those she left behind in Poland during WWII. Her only clues are a faded photo of a young man, a tiny leather shoe, and a letter.

In 1940s Poland, Alina is young and in love, and gets engaged to Tomasz just before he goes away to college. She can’t wait to start their future together. Then the Nazis arrive, and her whole world changes to hunger, fear, and a desperate longing for Tomasz. She knows he’ll keep his promise to return to her, but so many obstacles stand in the way, and the darkness around them may sweep them under if anyone finds out their secrets.

This book. This book. Fantastically well-written, I found myself drawn into both timelines effortlessly, caring about both Alice and Alina and their happiness. The horrors of war are captured in small bits, enough to paint the picture, but not so much that the reader can’t move past it. I cried at the end, but this story is filled with so much hope and love. A wonderful read!

Kelly Rimmer is a USA Today bestselling author. The Things We Cannot Say is her newest book.

(Galley courtesy of Graydon House via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.)