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Search tags: set-in-1900-1919
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review 2018-06-23 19:11
The Valley of Amazement
The Valley of Amazement - Amy Tan

I did something while reading this book that I have never done before: I flipped to the last page to see if it had a happy ending. Because good lord does Violet get put through the ringer.

 

This is often a difficult read, so I'll say upfront: if sexual exploitation makes you squeamish, you may want to skip this book. I'm usually one who wouldn't touch this with a ten-foot pole, but while the tone was unflinching, the details when divulged were detached enough to not affect me too much. Everyone has different tolerance levels and triggers, though, so it's something to consider.

 

This is set in the first half of the 1900s in China in the culture of the courtesan houses. It resembles Memoirs of a Geisha in that respect and it doesn't shy away from how young girls were sold and stolen into this life, but beyond the inner workings of the courtesan houses, this is a much different story with a different focus. 

 

As with all of Tan's work, this story is about the relationship between mothers and daughters, but unlike her other stories, this one is told primarily through Violet's POV. We follow her from a young, conceited girl growing up in her mother's courtesan house - not as a courtesan though, just to be clear on that point. She can only see how things effect her, how her mother is distant and aloof, and how she doesn't feel like she's loved enough. After they're separated by a ne'er-do-well and Violet is sold to another house, she must use her fierceness and determination to survive her new life and come to terms with the many twists and turns that her life makes. 

 

It's not all dire. She has a friend in the courtesan house to help her and protect her as much as possible, and she knows how to navigate this world better than most, though she makes many foolish decisions along the way. There are good moments as well, and Violet learns how to appreciate others, the depths of love and sacrifices that we make for each other along the way, all of which helps her to better understand the choices her own mother had made. But every time she takes a step forward, she's knocked twenty steps back. It's a long hard road, but there is a hopeful ending.

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review 2018-03-03 22:05
Whistling in the Dark (Audiobook)
Whistling in the Dark - Tamara Allen

This is true Tamara Allen sweetness here: a quiet little story full of hope in a bleak time.

 

Sutton and Jack are WWI veterans trying to figure out how to get back into civilian life after the war. Jack runs an emporium which is struggling because of the economic times. He's also suffering from PTSD, unable to sleep most nights. Sutton suffered a hand injury that has prevented him from getting back to playing the piano, and he's running out of ways to make it on his own in NYC.

 

I really liked the way Ms. Allen took her time with this story and building up these characters and their relationship, so that while this is another one-month romance, it didn't feel rushed at all, and it actually felt like a lot more time had passed. She really pays attention to the details, like the "treatments" for PTSD and the "health advice" for influenza, and makes sure the characters feel like they're from the time period. Normally, when this many side characters are tolerable of Jack and Sutton's relationship, I'd bemoan "gay okay" revisionist history in M/M, but Ms. Allen never loses sight of the consequences, not just of the general public but of the law as well, if the wrong people find out or decide to spread the word. Plus, it's New York, where almost anything goes. There's also a variety of different ways that the characters react to it when they find out, so they're not exactly 100% on the Rainbow Train even when their responses are mostly positive.

 

I also liked that Sutton wasn't the wide-eyed country boy, and that Jack wasn't the "corrupting" influence his friends teased him as being. Though they'd both served in the army, they didn't come out of it tough-as-nails warriors like you see so much of in contemporary stories. You can see the weariness on them both, and Jack especially had a hard time forgetting the things he saw or the people who died so he could do his work. They were tired of fighting and eager to put it behind them.

 

The narrator, Meral Mathews, has a nice old-timey quality to his voice that suits the story. I do wish he'd made more of a distinction between the various voices, but I was still always able to keep track of who was speaking and which POV we were in.

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review 2018-02-05 02:10
Lessons in Love (Cambridge Fellows #1)
Lessons in Love: A sparkling tale of mystery, murder and romance (Cambridge Fellows Book 1) - Charlie Cochrane

DNF @ 32%

 

Too much telling and not enough showing for both the romance and the mystery. Reads more like a detailed outline.

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review 2017-08-09 02:30
The Moonlit Garden (Audiobook)
The Moonlit Garden - Alison Layland,Corina Bomann

This was a pleasant surprise! Especially for an Amazon First selection since usually those books are not that great. This is translated into English, but I didn't notice any awkward phrasing to the translation was well done. 

 

I wasn't sure what I was getting into with this one, except that at some point there'd a moonlit garden :D so I was just going along for the ride and it was a good one. Lily owns an antique shop in Berlin and one day an old man comes in, hands her an old violin, tells her it's hers and leaves. The rest of the book goes back and forth between Lily trying to solve the mystery of the violin and Rose, the violin's original owner, a master violinist in the earliest part of the 1900s.

 

There's enough left out in the historical parts to keep the mystery moving in the current timeline. It's just nice to have a mystery that doesn't revolve around murder for a change, and trying to figure out how all the pieces fit together. And while parts of this take place in England and Germany, a good chunk of it takes place in Sumatra, Indonesia, which was also a nice change of pace as I don't often come across books set in Asia.

 

The narrator has kind of a soft voice but it didn't bother me too much. I do wish she had more range in her voices, especially for the men since despite some slight differences to their accents, it was difficult to tell them apart because they all sounded so similar. She does a somewhat better job differentiating the female voices. 

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review 2017-07-14 03:51
A Room With a View (Audiobook) - DNF @ 38%
A Room with a View - E.M. Forster

This is partly my fault, and partly the book's fault.

 

My fault - For some reason I thought this was like Rear Window, and that the movie was an adaptation of this book??? The movie has a guy with view outside his room, okay! I've never seen it, I just know about it through pop culture and the last time I heard anything about it was years ago, so I forgot the title. So I saw this book, and went hey! I should read that and then I can watch the movie, or rewatch that episode of Castle at least. Hahahaha! Nope. There is a murder, but that's about the only thing these two have in common. So incorrect expectations are totes my fault.

 

Book's fault - Bored now. Women were repressed in ye olden times. Did you know that? This is complete news to me. *sigh* Just a bunch of talking heads, characters are self-important and annoying (well, I guess Lucy's alright) and NOTHING HAPPENS. Walk around the countryside and talk. Next day: walk around the countryside and talk. Next day: Drive around the countryside and talk. Talk talk talk talkety talk talk. This is a British romance so boring even Hugh Grant wasn't in the movie adaptation. It's that bad!

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