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review 2017-07-28 16:58
I continue to be drawn in by beautiful cover art
The Charmed Children of Rookskill Castle - Janet Fox

The Charmed Children of Rookskill Castle by Janet Fox is another prime example of an eye-catching cover which I couldn't resist. It evokes a certain gothic mysteriousness which I'm happy to say was delivered. From the very beginning,  the reader is launched into a tale of magic, wickedness, desperation, and all-consuming power. The story follows a family of children who are sent to stay at an estate in the country during the Blitz of WWII. However, all is not what it seems at this country school as the oldest daughter, Kate, quickly realizes after meeting the lady of the house. Much of the drama is tied to a chatelaine (a chain decorated with different items used around a house and usually worn by the woman in charge of the household affairs) worn by this woman. There are a lot of different threads to follow in this narrative which made it a little challenging to follow at times. The reader is sent back in time to follow this woman's history and then suddenly we're back with Kate in the present. That was a bit jarring but easily overcome. I'd say that the book's biggest strength was its originality in using magical artifacts of an unusual sort (I don't want to give it away entirely). If you are a fan of boarding school mysteries with a healthy heaping of dark magic then you'll most likely enjoy this book. It's a 6/10 for me but it would have been higher if the narrative thread had been a bit tighter.

 

I mean how could I have turned down this cover?!

 

Source: Amazon

 

What's Up Next: Some Writer!: The Story of E.B. White by Melissa Sweet

 

What I'm Currently Reading: The Trouble with Goats and Sheep by Joanna Cannon

Source: readingfortheheckofit.blogspot.com
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review 2017-07-23 18:05
The Kitchen God's Wife - DNF @ 41%
The Kitchen God's Wife - Amy Tan

The writing is still well-crafted and masterful, but I just couldn't get into the plot at this time. It feels like a forgotten story from the Joy Luck Club, only without the same level of interaction with the younger generation that provided a counterpoint to the direness of the mothers' tales. I feel terrible for not being able to finish this because I do usually enjoy Tan's characters.

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review 2017-07-21 16:57
Seven Stones to Stand or Fall
Seven Stones to Stand or Fall: A Collection of Outlander Short Stories - Diana Gabaldon

A few of these I've read already, so I'll be lazy and link to those reviews. ;)

 

The Custom of the Army - 2 stars


https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/524842810?book_show_action=false&from_review_page=1

 

The Space Between - no rating

 

I didn't bother getting this when it was originally released solo and I'm glad I didn't. I don't have much interest in Joan, and even less interest in the Comte St. Germain, nor did I ever once wonder what happened to the guy or what his backstory was. So this was one long bore and I skimmed a lot of it to get to the important plot points. It was nice to see Mother Hildegard, but her role here is pretty much just cameo and doesn't make up for the rest.

 

A Plague of Zombies - 4 stars


https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/1900984342?book_show_action=false&from_review_page=1

 

A Leaf on the Wind of All Hallows - 5 stars


(No review for this one though. Sounds like a good reason for a reread.)

 

And reread I did and loved it just as much as the first time. Roger's father, Jerry MacKenzie, is unexpectedly launched back in time when his plane crash lands, and he goes through hell and back to get back to his time and his family. We get a few scenes of what's going on with Marjorie and baby Roger, but most of this is focused on Jerry. It's beautifully and heartbreakingly written, because if you've read the Outlander books you already know what everyone believes to have happened.

 

Virgins - 3 stars

 

Jamie and Ian are mercenaries in France. There's a lot of anti-Semantism in this one, as Gabaldon doesn't shy away from the prejudices of the time, and even our protags are guilty of it. The Jewish characters themselves though do not appear - at least to me - to be caricatures or stereotypes. Some of the Scottisms seemed strange - Ian's constantly referring to Jamie as a "wean" - I didn't think their age difference was all that great, so it felt odd. There's also this whole subplot with one of the other mercenaries who makes Gregor Clegane look like a fluffy kitty.

 

A Fugitive Green - 4 stars

 

Minnie and Hal's first meeting! I was intrigued by the backstory we got about Minnie in The Scottish Prisoner, so getting to see a more detailed telling of it was great. Minnie's wonderful and resourceful, and we even get a brief (too brief, I thought) subplot of Minnie's mom and her quest to find her. That was rather melodramatic - the mom's backstory that is - and I kept feeling like there was something more there going on than we heard

because nuns getting pregnant is not exactly unheard of so why exactly did Minnie's mom go mad because of it?

(spoiler show)

 

The ending also felt a bit rushed, so I hope this isn't the last exploration we get into these characters' backstories.

 

Besieged - 4 stars

 

Man, John can't even leave an assignment without getting pulled into a war. :P This is an interesting follow up to A Plague of Zombies, as John's still temporary military governor of Jamaica and trying his darnedest to resign that post. Enter his stepfather with some harrowing news. Loved seeing Tom Byrd again, and it was neat to see how Rodrigo is dealing after being zombified. There's your ingrained racism of the time, what with the slavery and all. I've never liked John's pragmatic view of slavery, but it is what it is, I guess? At least here, that pragmatism is a help to them.

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review 2017-07-13 12:13
For lovers of historical fiction and the French Resistance, a novel based on a true episode of cruelty and destruction that should never be forgotten.
Wolfsangel - Liza Perrat

This is the third book by Liza Perrat I have read, and it won’t be the last one. After The Silent Kookaburra set in Australia in the 1970s, I read the first book in the Bone Angel Series, Spirit of Lost Angels. (Read the review here). This is a series that follows the women of a French rural family through the generations, with big jumps in time. The name comes from a little bone angel talisman these women wear and inherit down the female line, together with a skill and talent for nursing (including knowledge of herbs and natural remedies) and midwifery. While Spirit of Lost Angels is set around the time of the French Revolution, this book follows the main character, Célestine (Céleste) through the difficult years of the German occupation of France during the Second World War and its immediate aftermath.

The book is again narrated by its protagonist, a young girl, eager to prove herself and to lead an interesting life away from her seemingly uncaring and cold mother, in the first person. I know some readers do not like first person narrations although they bring an immediacy and closeness to the proceedings, and help us understand better the main character (well, to the point she understands herself). This device also means that we share in the point of view and opinions of Céleste and we are as surprised by events as she is, as we do not have any more information than she does. I am fascinated by narrators, and although Céleste is not an unreliable narrator by design (she does tell things and events as she experiences them), her rushed and unthinking behaviour at times, her quick reactions, and her youth make her not the most objective of people at times. Of course, if readers cannot manage to connect with Céleste at some level, the novel will be harder to read, but she is a likeable character. She is young, impulsive, and enthusiastic. She is eager to help and will often do it without thinking about the consequences and risks she might be taking. She helps a Jewish family very early on, hiding them on the farm, even when she is convinced her mother will not be happy. She wants to help the Resistance cause and is frustrated by the assumption that she is incapable of making any meaningful contribution to the war efforts because she is a woman. She works hard to prove she can be as useful and courageous as a man and runs incredible risks to achieve her goals.

She is not perfect, though, and her youth is particularly well reflected in her romantic attachment to one of the German officers. As is often the case for young lovers, Céleste seems to fall in love with her idea of romance, having only very limited and furtive contact with the officer. If at first she tries to convince herself that she is only playing a part to gather intelligence (and even her sister Felicité encourages her to try and obtain information), soon things turn serious, proving that she is not as calculating and mature as she would like to believe.

Céleste develops throughout the novel, moving to the city, becoming a true resistance fighter, helping the war effort as a nurse, feeding the prisoners at the station on their way to the camps, spying and passing secret information, and becoming a determined and independent woman. She also proves her strength and determination and survives a terrible ordeal and severe losses.

The cast of secondary characters is also exemplary. Céleste’s family (except for her father that we don’t know much about) are well-drawn and fascinating. The relationship mother-daughter is one of the strongest points and it reminds us of the strong bonds and connections between women (not always straight forward) the series is built on. Felicité, Céleste’s sister, is an amazing character, brave beyond the call of duty and, as we learn later, based on a historical figure. Her actions and her courage are very touching. Her brother is strong and supportive, and also a member of the resistance, and we get to know her friends, the doctor, the priest, and to understand that a lot of the population supported the resistance (some more openly than others), although there were collaborationists there too.

The author creates a great sense of place and historical era. The language, the foods, the clothing, the difficulties of an occupied nation trying to survive and resist are vividly brought to life thanks to the detailed descriptions of the landscape and the events, that make us share in the experience, without burdening the novel with extraneous information. The research is seamlessly incorporated into the story and it reminds us of how close the events are to us and makes us reflect on historical similarities with current times. The style of writing is poetic at times (the descriptions of the forest, Céleste’s love for her home and her pendant…), dynamic and flowing, and it has psychological depth and insight too.

The novel is harrowing and realistic as it describes death and tragedy on a big scale. The events that took place in Oradour Sur Glane in 1944 (and that inspired the novel) are horrific and reading them in the first person helps us understand more fully the kind of horror experienced by the victims and also the survivors.

The ending ties all loose ends together and is perfect for the story.

This is a great book for anybody who loves historical fiction and is interested in the French resistance from a more human perspective. It personalises and brings the readers closer to the experience of the era, at the same time helping us reflect on events and attitudes that are all too familiar. If you prefer your history close, personal, and in the first person, this is your book.

 

 

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review SPOILER ALERT! 2017-07-11 05:32
The Unsung Hero (Troubleshooters #1) (Audiobook)
The Unsung Hero - Suzanne Brockmann

This audiobook is brought to you by Patrick Lawlor and Siri. Ok, Melanie Ewbanks reads the female POVs (I googled it - she is not Siri), but true story: I was driving to a meeting at a building I hadn't been to before when I first started listening to this audiobook, so I had my GPS turned on. The first time Ms. Ewbanks took over the narration, I seriously thought that my GPS lady got bored and started to randomly narrate the book. (I googled the GPS lady too - not Ms. Ewbanks.) She improves a little as the story goes on - or I just got used to her - but if you want to know what sex scenes sound like when read to you by a Siri-esque voice, now's your chance! (I didn't, so I skipped over them. Even when Lawlor was reading them. Narrators reading sex scenes are just painful.) Patrick Lawlor did a much better job of getting into the material and bringing life and warmth to the story. Unfortunately - as happens too often with dual narrators - the narrators are clearly not in the studio together when they recorded their parts, so Lawlor still has to do female voices and Siri still has to do male voices and I have no idea why you would pay for two narrators and then split up the reading this way. Stop doing this to your listeners!

 

Sadly, even the best narrators couldn't have saved this book. This has three - count them - one, two, THREE - romances crammed into one long-ass boring romance novel with an attempt at an intriguing suspense subplot to thread it all together. It just doesn't work. Rating them from blandest to most promising, the romances are these:

 

3 - Charles, Cybelle, Joe - Love triangle. Bored now. Love triangle set during WW II? UGHHHH! At least it's not set in Pearl Harbor? Seriously, it's WW II and that's the best the author could think to do with these characters? STAHP. The only good thing about this part of the story is that Charles and Joe stay friends.

 

2 - Kelly and Tom - The old "girl kisses boy, boy freaks out and enlists in the Navy, boy and girl don't see each other for 16 years and in all that time they clearly barely even change since they're right back where they left off as soon as they're in the same room again" story. Yeah, nothing new here either. I did like Tom's struggles with his head injury and wondering if he's still capable of leading. I'm just not sure this story actually answers that question. I also liked Kelly's struggles with understanding her father, Charles, and getting closer to him as his health is failing.

 

1 - Mallory and David - The old "geek boy who's really a nice guy (but not a Nice Guy) stalks beautiful girl and gets her" story. Ok, stalking is a little strong. He just makes himself visible, and he's a lot more confident and self-assured than geek boys tend to be in these stories. Mallory's change of heart toward him is gradual, and while it occasionally threatens to veer into boring romance cliche territory, it mostly avoids it.

 

The terrorist stalker subplot is one I've read before also, so again, nothing new here. This was published pre-9/11, so maybe the regulations were a wee bit more relaxed then, but I doubt it. If a bomb threat gets called in, it has to be investigated. End of story. If a building needs to be evacuated in a hurry, pull the fire alarm. The ending was convoluted and eye roll worthy, and the negligence on display here by literally everyone except our protags defies logic. 

 

This series is not off to a good start, but I've seen other reviews mention the books get better after this one, so I'm going to at least give the next one a try.

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