Monday, May 31, 2021

#Spotlight: Sisters at War by Clare Flynn


DESCRIPTION: 
A dramatic and emotional wartime novel
1940 Liverpool. The pressures of war threaten to tear apart two sisters traumatised by their mother's murder by their father.

With her new husband Will, a merchant seaman, deployed on dangerous Atlantic convoy missions, Hannah needs her younger sister Judith more than ever. But when Mussolini declares war on Britain, Judith's Italian sweetheart, Paolo is imprisoned as an enemy alien, and Judith's loyalties are divided.

Each sister wants only to be with the man she loves but, as the war progresses, tensions between them boil over, and they face an impossible decision.

A heart-wrenching page-turner about the everyday bravery of ordinary people during wartime. From heavily blitzed Liverpool to the terrors of the North Atlantic and the scorched plains of Australia, Sisters at War will bring tears to your eyes and joy to your heart.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: 
A former global marketing director, Clare lives in Eastbourne. She is a fluent Italian speaker and loves spending time in Italy. In her spare time she likes to quilt, paint and travel as often and as widely as possible.

Author of eleven historical novels and a short story collection, Flynn is an active member of The Historical Novel Society, The Romantic Novelists Association, The Alliance of Independent Authors, and The Society of Authors. More information about her books can be found at www.clareflynn.co.uk.
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Sunday, January 24, 2021

#BookReview: The Royal Governess by Wendy Holden

Genre
Biographic Fiction

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DESCRIPTION: 
Sunday Times bestselling author Wendy Holden brings to life the unknown childhood years of one of the world’s most iconic figures, Queen Elizabeth II, and reveals the little-known governess who made Britain’s queen into the monarch we know today.

In 1933, twenty-two-year-old Marion Crawford accepts the role of a lifetime, tutoring their Royal Highnesses Elizabeth and Margaret Rose. Her one stipulation to their parents the Duke and Duchess of York is that she bring some doses of normalcy into the sheltered and privileged lives of the two young princesses.

At Buckingham Palace, Windsor Castle, and Balmoral, Marion defies oppressive court protocol to take the girls on tube trains, swimming at public baths, and on joyful Christmas shopping trips at Woolworth’s. From her ringside seat at the heart of the British monarchy she witnesses the upheaval of the Abdication and the glamour and drama of the 1937 Coronation.

During the war, as Hitler’s Heinkels fly over Windsor, she shelters her charges in the castle dungeons (not far from where the Crown Jewels are hidden in a biscuit tin). Afterwards, she is there when Elizabeth first sets eyes on Philip. But being beloved governess and confidante to the Windsor family has come at a cost. She puts her private life on hold until released from royal service following Princess Elizabeth’s marriage in 1947.

In a majestic story of love, sacrifice, and allegiance, bestselling novelist Holden shines a captivating light into the years before Queen Elizabeth II took the throne, as immortalized on the popular television series The Crown.
REVIEW: 
Historically, Marion Crawford was a Scottish educator hired by the Duke and Duchess of York as a governess for their daughters, Elizabeth and Margaret. It was a privileged position, but it became all the more so when the Duke ascended the throne as George VI following his elder brother's abdication. In retirement, Marion published a book, THE LITTLE PRINCESSES, about her experiences with the royal family. The Windsors proclaimed the publication exploitive and ceased all contact with their former employee. 

Per the author's note, Holden intended THE ROYAL GOVERNESS to play on the suggestion that Marion was maltreated and misrepresented by the royal family. I obviously can't speak for the world at large, but I could not love this idea more if I tried. If the story has two sides – and what story doesn't? – what was Marion's? How could it all measure up to the common perception of a scheming and self-serving glory-hound? I had to find out, so I booked it to my local library, snagged a copy, and jumped in.

Now I know you're wondering how I went from blind enthusiasm to a two-star review, so I'll just come out and say it: I found Holden's delivery fatally flawed. 

I struggled with the author's decision to hold mention of Marion's writing or the scandal it created until the last four chapters of the narrative. I am not a writer, but in my head, this novel would have been infinitely stronger if Holden had introduced the scandal, then gone back in time to explain Marion's side of things. As is, Holden's delay undermines her intention to reframe the event and leaves readers who came to this novel specifically for the scandal feeling cheated of the experience. 

Realizing the story's direction wouldn't satisfy my preconceptions, I tried very hard to enjoy the novel for what it is. To that end, I feel I'd have liked the story more if Marion's character arc had any noticeable curvature. Unfortunately for me, her journey flatlined into a succession of walk-on roles in the defining moments of other people's lives. I got the sense that she occasionally wanted a life of her own and abhorred the aristocracy's privilege, but she was also enamored with the prestige of royal association, forgot her love life for years at a time, and failed to cultivate any compelling emotional relationships. I felt these contradictions muddied Holden's themes and, when paired with Marion's lack of growth, made it difficult to appreciate the fictional elements of the story she presented. 

In terms of accuracy, THE ROYAL GOVERNESS isn't flawless, but in Holden's defense, the errors I noticed were so minor that I didn't factor them in my rating. Holden depicts Debo Mitford as singled-mindedly interested in marrying a Duke. This is odd as the real Debo was married to Lord Andrew Cavendish for three years before the death of Andrew's elder brother placed her husband in line for his father's title (BLACK DIAMONDS by Bailey or THE KENNEDY DEBUTANTE by Maher). Elizabeth's engagement ring is also noted as square, but Google will quickly reveal that rock is round. I don't consider either slip significant to Marion's story and write both off as accidental, but if this is the kind of thing that will ruin a story for you, it might be best to move on.   

All things considered, I feel THE ROYAL GOVERNESS has some strengths. I quite liked Holden's approach to Wallis Simpson, George VI, the Queen Mother, and Princess Margaret, but when it gets down to Marion Crawford, I didn't find Holden's thesis convincing and felt the overall presentation disjointed.

Rating: ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
Obtained from: Library
Read: January 21, 2021
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Saturday, January 9, 2021

#BookReview: The Blossom and the Firefly by Sherri L. Smith

Genre
Young Adult Historical
War Era Historical

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DESCRIPTION: 
A WWII romance between two Japanese teens caught in the cogs of an unwinnable war.

Japan 1945. Taro is a talented violinist and a kamikaze pilot in the days before his first and only mission. He believes he is ready to die for his country . . . until he meets Hana. Hana hasn't been the same since the day she was buried alive in a collapsed trench during a bomb raid. She wonders if it would have been better to have died that day . . . until she meets Taro.

A song will bring them together. The war will tear them apart. Is it possible to live an entire lifetime in eight short days? 
REVIEW: 
Sherri L. Smith's The Blossom and the Firefly stood out the moment I saw it. I have always been a bit of a cover slut and was immediately drawn to the jacket art, but I am also a diehard fan of historical fiction and harbor a specific interest in novels that spotlight diverse perspectives. Long story short, I hooked before I had time to think and had trouble waiting for the audio to come through from my local library.

I mention the audio because this production has two narrators. Traci Kato-Kiriyama and Greg Watanabe give terrific performances, but I was attracted to the independence and authenticity their voices gave Taro and Hana. I understand costs can be prohibitive, but the decision to hire dual talent for this dual narrative definitely enhanced my experience of the story.

Audiobooks depend on the quality of the actors, but they are nothing without the storyteller behind the script. Smith's eye for subject matter is undeniable, but her command of language is the heart and soul of this piece. Smith's prose is dreamy and melancholic, but I felt the lyrical tone of the text a beautiful compliment to the perspective of the adolescent musicians who serve as her narrators. 

The Blossom and the Firefly is slow-paced, Young Adult lit, but it is also a poignant war story that gives unique visibility to the boy pilots of the Imperial Japanese Army airbase at Chiran and the high school girls who waved them into the skies. Though not a significant character, I also felt the novel's acknowledgment of Tome Torihama touching and sincerely appreciated the thematic complexity of the novel.

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
Obtained from: Library
Read: January 9, 2021
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Wednesday, January 6, 2021

#BookReview: Libertie by Kaitlyn Greenidge

Genre
Literary Fiction

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DESCRIPTION: 
“Pure brilliance. So much will be written about Kaitlyn Greenidge’s Libertie—how it blends history and magic into a new kind of telling, how it spins the past to draw deft circles around our present—but none of it will measure up to the singular joy of reading this book.” —Mira Jacob, author of Good Talk  

The critically acclaimed and Whiting Award–winning author of We Love You, Charlie Freeman returns with an unforgettable story about the meaning of freedom.
 
Coming of age as a free-born Black girl in Reconstruction-era Brooklyn, Libertie Sampson was all too aware that her purposeful mother, a practicing physician, had a vision for their future together: Libertie would go to medical school and practice alongside her. But Libertie, drawn more to music than science, feels stifled by her mother’s choices and is hungry for something else—is there really only one way to have an autonomous life? And she is constantly reminded that, unlike her mother who can pass, Libertie has skin that is too dark. When a young man from Haiti proposes to Libertie and promises she will be his equal on the island, she accepts, only to discover that she is still subordinate to him and all men. As she tries to parse what freedom actually means for a Black woman, Libertie struggles with where she might find it—for herself and for generations to come.
 
Inspired by the life of one of the first Black female doctors in the United States and rich with historical detail, Kaitlyn Greenidge’s new novel resonates in our times and is perfect for readers of Brit Bennett, Min Jin Lee, and Yaa Gyasi.
REVIEW: 
I was not sure what to expect when I plunked Libertie from my staggering TBR. I had not read Kaitlyn Greenidge before, but I was drawn to both the themes in the jacket description and the novel’s unique setting. I have not encountered many stories set in Haiti, and I could not resist jumping at the opportunity to indulge my interest in culturally diverse historicals.

Greenidge’s novel is not a strict biographic fiction, but both Cathy and Libertie Sampson are modeled on real people. The inspiration for Dr. Cathy Sampson came from the life and achievements of Dr. Susan Smith McKinney Steward, the first African American woman to earn a medical degree in New York state. Dr. Steward had two children with her first husband, Rev. William G. McKinney, and while I could not find much about either online, I did discover a New York news clipping announcing the marriage of Anna M. McKinney to Louis Holly of Port-au-Prince.

I do not know how Greenidge developed her fiction, but I love how she draped her ideas around authentic experiences. The author put her own spin on the story to spotlight notions of race, colorism, gender, feminism, autonomy, and freedom, but the structure of the novel is a compliment to the lives that sparked Greenidge’s imagination in the first place. I do not mean to downplay the thematic material, the underlying motifs of this novel touched my heart, but I feel the decision to explore these ideas through the lens of a mother-daughter relationship took this story to another level.

A perceptive, thought-provoking, and illuminating narrative, Libertie is a story well-worth seeking out.

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
Obtained from: Netgalley
Read: January 6, 2021
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