Sunday, March 31, 2019

#BookReview: The German Midwife by Mandy Robotham

Genre
War Era Historical

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DESCRIPTION:  
Germany, 1944. A prisoner in the camps, midwife Anke Hoff is doing what she can to keep her pregnant campmates and their newborns alive.

But when Anke’s work is noticed, she is chosen for a task far more dangerous than she could ever have imagined. High in the Bavarian hills, Eva Braun is pregnant, and Anke is assigned as her caregiver.

Before long, Anke is faced with an impossible choice. Does she serve the Reich she loathes and keep the baby alive? Or does she sacrifice an innocent child for the good of a broken world?


REVIEW: 
Most readers seem to have enjoyed the time they spent with Mandy Robotham’s The German Midwife (aka A Woman of War), but I have to admit the novel left me conflicted.

As I understand it, Hitler’s few living relations have voluntarily committed themselves to intentionally stamping out their bloodline, and I had great difficulty rectifying that knowledge against the context of Robotham’s work. I appreciate the theories that inspired this piece, but I also felt the framework Robotham chose thumbs its nose at the intensely personal decisions of very real people and couldn’t help wishing she’d opted to express herself through a different lens.

By pure coincidence, I also read this novel alongside I Was a Doctor at Auschwitz. The memoir, penned by Gisella Perl, is the firsthand account of the time its author spent as an inmate gynecologist. Fair or not, the natural overlap in subject matter prompted unconscious comparison, and while I felt the fiction heavy, I couldn’t help noticing it the paler of the two. The course of Perl’s experiences with the officers of the camp also undermined Anke’s rise, and I found I had little patience for the fiction at the end of the day.

When all is said and done, I liked the ideas on which this story was built and appreciate Robotham’s style of writing but have such mixed feelings about the historical context and contemporary implications that I’d have a hard time recommending it forward.

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
Obtained from: Netgalley
Read: March 19, 2019
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#BookReview: Oracle's War by David Hair & Cath Mayo

Genre
Mythology

Series
Olympus Trilogy #2

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DESCRIPTION: 
Gods and mortals collide in the thrilling second installment in the historical Greek fantasy the Olympus Series.

When Prince Odysseus is sent on a quest to recover his family honor, he’s led to Delos where a mysterious new prophecy has captivated the gods. Caught in a tangled web of intrigue, he discovers that this prophecy is tied to his own destiny and the fate of his patron goddess, Athena.

With the future of his people hanging by a thread, Odysseus, the daemon Bria, the hero Diomedes and a small band of loyal Ithacans, must unveil the truth before it’s too late. But opposing them is Tiresias, the greatest seer of the age, who will do anything to burn his own vision onto the face of history.

Caught between the prophecy, the gods and his mortal enemies, Odysseus must start a war: one that may be impossible to win…

Oracle’s War, second in the epic Olympus Series, is perfect for fans of David Gemmell and Madeline Miller.

REVIEW: 
Before I get too far ahead of myself, I want to note that I tackled Oracle's War by David Hair and Cath Mayo as a buddy read with one of my favorite fellow book bloggers. Magdalena reviews books at A Bookaholic Swede, and if you have not done so already, I recommend checking her site out. She is a prolific reader and has a great catalog of honest reviews spanning a variety of genres.

I also want to point out that Oracle's War is the second installment of David Hair and Cath Mayo’s Olympus trilogy. Prospective readers should understand that novels are not written as standalones. Oracle's War relies heavily on Athena's Champion and for this reason, I highly recommend tackling the books in order.

Much like its predecessor, Oracle’s War hits the ground running and does not let it up until the final page. I do not use the term action-packed often, but this story demands it. Hair and Mayo are masters at sustaining momentum, a fact which left me on the edge of my seat for much of my reading.

While based on ancient myths, these stories are not traditional in tone. Hair and Mayo cleverly blend and twist many of the well-known stories in ways that challenge their audience to expand their thinking. I love how this approach forces their readers to think about the material, to consider how mythologies develop, and how they grow and evolve to reflect the cultures that foster them.

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
Obtained from: Netgalley
Read: March 26, 2019
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#BookReview: Smoke in Her Eyes by Anna Belfrage

Genre
Reincarnation Fiction

Series
The Wanderer #2

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DESCRIPTION: 
Six months ago, Helle Madsen would have described herself as normal. Now she no longer knows if that terms applies, not after her entire life has been turned upside down by the reappearance of not one, but two, men from her very, very distant past.

Helle Madsen never believed in mumbo-jumbo stuff like reincarnation—until she came face to face with Jason Morris, a man who purportedly had spent fifty lives looking for her. Coping with being reunited with the lover from her ancient past was one thing. Having Sam Woolf, her vindictive nemesis from that same ancient past join the party was a bit too much. Suddenly, Helle finds herself the reluctant heroine of a far-flung, time-transcending epic story, one in which pain and loss seem to play a very big part.

This time round, Jason and Helle are determined to make it to the happily ever after. Unfortunately, Sam Woolf will stop at nothing to crush them. That ride into the golden sunset seems awfully far away at times…

REVIEW: 
I discovered Anna Belfrage’s historical fiction several years ago, and I became so hooked on her work that I didn’t think twice about jumping into her erotic romances even though I am not typically drawn to the genre.

Smoke in Her Eyes is the second of Belfrage’s Wanderer series, and while I loved the story, I think it best appreciated by those who’ve read book one. I also admit that despite my appreciation for Belfrage’s use of reincarnation as a plot device, it is the emotional aspects of the narrative that captured my imagination.

Helle and Jason may be meant for one another, but their relationship is not immune to jealousy, and I felt the circumstances Belfrage created to explore that idea both imaginative and refreshing. The story, unlike many of my experience, does not hinge on a simple miscommunication or blatantly ineffective red herring. What Belfrage offers is something genuinely relatable, and I appreciated how that aspect of the story balances the heat of the novel’s erotic content.

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
Obtained from: Author
Read: March 21, 2019
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#BookReview: The Woman in the White Kimono by Ana Johns

Genre
War Era Historical

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DESCRIPTION:  
Oceans and decades apart, two women are inextricably bound by the secrets between them.

Japan, 1957. Seventeen-year-old Naoko Nakamura’s prearranged marriage to the son of her father’s business associate would secure her family’s status in their traditional Japanese community, but Naoko has fallen for another man—an American sailor, a gaijin—and to marry him would bring great shame upon her entire family. When it’s learned Naoko carries the sailor’s child, she’s cast out in disgrace and forced to make unimaginable choices with consequences that will ripple across generations.

America, present day. Tori Kovac, caring for her dying father, finds a letter containing a shocking revelation—one that calls into question everything she understood about him, her family and herself. Setting out to learn the truth behind the letter, Tori’s journey leads her halfway around the world to a remote seaside village in Japan, where she must confront the demons of the past to pave a way for redemption.

In breathtaking prose and inspired by true stories from a devastating and little-known era in Japanese and American history, The Woman in the White Kimono illuminates a searing portrait of one woman torn between her culture and her heart, and another woman on a journey to discover the true meaning of home.


REVIEW: 
I picked up Ana Johns’ The Woman in the White Kimono on the cover image alone. I didn’t read the jacket description until the ARC was on my kindle, and when I finally did get around to looking at it, I groaned in exasperation as my tastes don’t lend themselves to post-WWII fiction.

To make a long story short, I was not convinced this novel would suit and was caught entirely off guard when I fell utterly in love with the text. Johns’ draws readers in with the poetry of her prose and I was moved by her ability to craft such an emotional narrative from such a distressing episode of little-known history.

As a dedicated reader of historical fiction, I was naturally more interested in Naoko’s half of the narrative, but it was Tori’s that ultimately brought a tear to my eye. Johns’ passion for research is evidenced throughout the narrative, but the vulnerability displayed by her characters took my breath away.

The novel is not suspenseful or overly ambiguous, but I couldn’t bring myself to put it down despite understanding where the story was going. Eloquent, poignant, and profoundly crafted, The Woman in the White Kimono is an absolute must-read.

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Obtained from: Edelweiss
Read: March 28, 2019
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Saturday, March 30, 2019

#BookReview: Trapped in Room 217 by Thomas Kingsley Troupe

Genre
Middle Grade Historical

Series
Haunted States of America

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DESCRIPTION:  
Jayla Walters isn't sure what to expect when her father's job uproots her and her brother, Dion, to Estes Park, Colorado. But right away, something doesn't seem right with their hotel. Jayla soon discovers that their home for the week, room 217 of the Stanley Hotel, is the most haunted place in all of Colorado. Barely asleep the first night, Jayla watches a ghostly woman walk toward her bed. And the ghost visits her room every night. What does the ghost want? And what happens when Jayla and Dion get in her way?

Every state has its own spine-tingling stories of ghosts and mysterious hauntings grounded in its regional history. The Haunted States of America series uses real-life ghost lore as jumping off points to new, chilling tales. But beware: sometimes real life is stranger than fiction.

REVIEW: 
Thomas Kingsley Troupe’s Trapped in Room 217 is decidedly outside my typical stomping grounds. A middle-grade fiction, the novel takes its inspiration from the spirited history of the Stanley Hotel’s famed room 217.

For the record, I’m not referring to the evening that led to its immortalization by Stephen King. As hard as it might be to believe, the room was the scene of another explosive moment in the hotel’s fascinating history, and while the unfortunate maid survived the flames, her ghost is said to have returned to haunt the halls following her death.

Troupe highlights the story through the experiences of Jayla and Dion Walters, and I love how these young narrators' perspective shapes the book for its target demographic. The story incorporates a fun twist toward the end that I thought added to the narrative, and while I probably wont read more of the series, I will be on the lookout for it for my children.

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
Obtained from: Netgalley
Read: March 29, 2019
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#BookReview: The Lieutenant's Nurse by Sara Ackerman

Genre
War Era Historical

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DESCRIPTION:  
November, 1941. She’s never even seen the ocean before, but Eva Cassidy has her reasons for making the crossing to Hawaii, and they run a lot deeper than escaping a harsh Michigan winter. Newly enlisted as an Army Corps nurse, Eva is stunned by the splendor she experiences aboard the steamship SS Lurline; even more so by Lt. Clark Spencer, a man she is drawn to but who clearly has secrets of his own. But Eva’s past—and the future she’s trying to create—means that she’s not free to follow her heart. Clark is a navy intelligence officer, and he warns her that the United States won’t be able to hold off joining the war for long, but nothing can prepare them for the surprise attack that will change the world they know.

In the wake of the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Eva and her fellow nurses band together for the immense duty of keeping the American wounded alive. And the danger that finds Eva threatens everything she holds dear. Amid the chaos and heartbreak, Eva will have to decide whom to trust and how far she will go to protect those she loves.

Set in the vibrant tropical surroundings of the Pacific, The Lieutenant’s Nurse is an evocative, emotional WWII story of love, friendship and the resilient spirit of the heroic nurses of Pearl Harbor.
REVIEW: 
Sara Ackerman's The Lieutenant’s Nurse left me with mixed feelings. Many aspects of the novel appealed to me, but some bore such resemblance to a particular film that I could not keep the memory of it from my shading my thoughts. 

I found Eva’s backstory fun to read, and I liked how her experiences came into play as the novel progressed. I also liked Ackerman's use of transmitted messages as they brought relevancy to Clark's position and gave the audience a broader view of the conflict. 

That said, parts of the novel reminded me a great deal of Pearl Harbor (2001). Like it or not, both feature a nurse (Eva in the book, Evelyn in the film) who finds herself in the middle of a love triangle during the attack on Pearl Harbor. I tried to ignore theses similarities, but doing so became impossible when the novel turned to lawn at Tripler Hospital. 

  • A Japanese doctor being verbally accosted by the wounded as our heroine writes Ms and Ts on victims in lipstick.
  • Our heroine struggling to tell the wounded they will be fine knowing it is a lie.
  • A peer falling prey to fear our heroine reminds her of her duties. 

The text of these scenes mirrored the film so closely that I could see the actors in my mind's eye and while I acknowledge the material made a certain degree of similarity unavoidable, I couldn't help feeling Ackerman could have mitigated some of the above by making different creative choices (a different name, a different romantic setup, a different position during the attack, etc.).

At the end of the day, I felt Ackerman did her homework in terms of research, I liked her characterizations, and I thought the cover-up she crafted imaginative. Her work falls on the lighter side of the spectrum, and I think the novel would have been stronger if the author had noted the parallels she drew in a select number of scenes, but I don't regret the time I spent with this piece and look forward to her next release. 

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
Obtained from: Netgalley
Read: March 30, 2019
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