Monday, October 16, 2017

Review: Last Christmas in Paris by Hazel Gaynor and Heather Webb

I used to write and receive a lot of letters. I am sad to say that I have let that go by the wayside for the most part, only writing a Christmas letter anymore. Early on in my letter writing career though, I used to keep every letter I ever received. I think I had some sense that if any of my long distance friends became famous, it would be good to have their words for posterity. Yes, I was a weird kid, honestly thinking about this before I even hit double digits! So far none of the friends I spent years writing to have become famous though, which is probably a good thing since their letters have long since found their way to the recycle bin. When you move a million times, unfortunately there's just no good justification for holding onto all of these sentimental things. It actually does make me a little sad thinking about all those lost words sent specifically to me though. Although epistolary novels aren't written to me specifically, I do still love reading through the letters in them and appreciating the idea of all those words tied up in ribbon for posterity so I was delighted to read Hazel Gaynor and Heather Webb's new WWI novel, Last Christmas in Paris.

Opening in 1968 with an ill and elderly Tom Harding making plans to go to Paris for his last Christmas where he plans to open one last letter, the bulk of the novel is a collection of letters and telegrams from WWI arranged, with one notable exception, in chronological order. When WWI is declared, Evie Elliott promises to write to her beloved older brother Will and his best friend, also a friend of hers, Tom Harding. Tom writes back consistently while Will is a less reliable pen pal. The 1914 letters are buoyant and certain of a quick finish to the war with Evie reminding Tom that the two of them, Will, and Evie's close friend Alice will reunite in Paris for Christmas. As the war continues on, the letters take a darker turn, showing the melancholy and despair that crept in but also showing as Evie and Tom opened up their very souls to each other. Evie not only reminds Tom of the good about the home front, but she also details the frustrations of not being able to do anything substantial (she's an appalling knitter) and the way that small but important opportunities start to open up to the women left behind in order to free more men to fight. Tom's letters tell of his anguish at losing his men and his friends as well as some of the truths that the government is suppressing in order to keep support and morale high at home. Other letters, beyond Evie and Tom's, add substantially to the plot as well. Evie writes to her friend Alice, a woman who enlists as an ambulance driver and nurse near the front, adding to Evie's feeling of being trapped and useless at her family's home but offering another perspective of "the war to end all wars."  Tom's father's accountant, who is trying to help Tom keep the family newspaper, The London Daily Times, afloat while Tom is mired in mud at the front and Harding Sr. is ill writes to him about various issues with war time reporting, conflicts with Tom's cousin over the running of the paper, and his father's decline.   More letters, to or from others, are sprinkled throughout the novel as well. 

The epistolary nature of the novel makes for a limited view and few side plots but the letters outside of the bounds of Evie and Tom's correspondence allow the reader to see beyond their own cautious, carefully considered words to each other and see them falling in love through words even if they remain uncertain of each others' depth of feeling. The early letters are naive and hopeful while the later letters show the progress of the war in their aching and uncertainty, freighted with so much that cannot be said. The novel is emotionally full despite the restraint in the letters themselves. Students of history will anticipate some of the events and will cringe as they read certain place names in Evie's letters, making the tale both personal and global. The novel shows the importance and power of words and represents the "un-silencing" of women at home through Evie's newspaper column. It touches on the emotional cost of war, for soldiers and civilians, beyond the obvious loss through death. Jumping back to 1968 and Tom's need to be in Paris at Christmas to read the last letter following each succeeding year of war time letters reminds the reader that life, full of all its attendant love and sorrow, has gone on after the atrocities that played out in France, not once but twice. Evie and Tom are characters with whom the reader will find it easy to become invested and the history is well researched and included organically. Frustratingly, Tom's rancor and lack of trust towards his cousin John is mentioned obliquely many times but the history of these feelings is never quite revealed, a newer incident being the stand-in for why he's not all he appears. And a final surprise toward the end of the novel isn't really much of a surprise for astute readers. The novel is well-written and engaging and will definitely suit epistolary novel fans, those who enjoy reading about WWI, and general historical fiction buffs.

For more information about Hazel Gaynor and Heather Webb and the book, check out Hazel's website or Heather's website, like Hazel or Heather on Facebook or follow Hazel or Heather on Twitter. Check out the book's Goodreads page, follow the rest of the blog tour, or look at the amazon reviews for others' thoughts and opinions on the book.

Thanks to Trish from TLC Book Tours and the Harper Collins for sending me a copy of this book to review.

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

This meme is hosted by Kathryn at Reading Date.

Books I completed this past week are:

Christmas at Little Beach Street Bakery by Jenny Colgan
Lawyer for the Dog by Lee Robinson
Lily and the Octopus by Stephen Rowley
Last Christmas in Paris by Hazel Gaynor and Heather Webb

Bookmarks are still living in the middle of:

A Well-Made Bed by Abby Frucht and Laurie Alberts
The Children's Crusade by Ann Packer
The Lake House by Kate Morton
Shelter by Jung Yun
The Center of the World by Jacqueline Sheehan
A Manual For Cleaning Women by Lucia Berlin
The Beauty of the End by Debbie Howells
Country of Red Azaleas by Domnica Radulescu
A Hard and Heavy Thing by Matthew J. Hefti
Paint Your Wife by Lloyd Jones
The Company They Kept edited by Robert B. Silvers and Barbara Epstein
No One Can Pronounce My Name by Rakesh Satyal
Thousand-Miler by Melanie Radzicki McManus
Dear Fang, With Love by Rufi Thorpe
Close Enough to Touch by Colleen Oakley
America's First Daughter by Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie
Hope Has Two Daughters by Monia Mazigh
After the Bloom by Leslie Shimotakahara
Metis Beach by Claudine Bourbonnais
Smoke by Dan Vyleta
Coco Chanel by Lisa Chaney
Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng
Every Anxious Wave by Mo Daviao
Less by Andrew Sean Greer

Reviews posted this week:

The Fire by Night by Teresa Messineo
Christmas at Little Beach Street Bakery by Jenny Colgan

Books still needing to have reviews written (as opposed to the ones that are simply awaiting posting):

The Woman Next Door by Yewande Omotoso
To Love the Coming End by Leanne Dunic
The Peculiar Life of a Lonely Postman by Denis Theriault
A Loving, Faithful Animal by Josephine Rowe
City Mouse by Stacey Lender
Cutting Back by Leslie Buck
Siracusa by Delia Ephron
The Wife, the Maid, and the Mistress by Ariel Lawhon
A Narrow Bridge by J.J. Gersher
The Never-Open Desert Diner by James Anderson
The Heart of Henry Quantum by Pepper Harding
The Hearts of Men by Nickolas Butler
Dance of the Jakaranda by Peter Kimani
How to Survive a Summer by Nick White
Bramton Wick by Elizabeth Fair
The Finishing School by Joanna Goodman
Meet Me in the In-Between by Bella Pollen
All Grown Up by Jami Attenberg
The Island of Books by Dominique Fortier
Lights On, Rats Out by Cree LeFavour
Salt Houses by Hala Alyan
Him, Me, Muhammad Ali by Randa Jarrar
What Are the Blind Men Dreaming? by Noemi Jaffee
Girl in Snow by Danya Kukafka
The Lying Game by Ruth Ware
The Talker by Mary Sojourner
When the Sky Fell Apart by Caroline Lea
The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid
'Round Midnight by Laura McBride
The German Girl by Armando Lucas Correa
The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane by Lisa See
The Jane Austen Project by Kathleen A. Flynn
Last Things by Marissa Moss
All Our Wrong Todays by Elan Mastai
Civilianized by Michael Anthony
The Redemption of Galen Pike by Carys Davies
Woman No. 17 by Edan Lepucki
In the Woods of Memory by Shun Medoruma
Before the Wind by Jim Lynch
Dinner with Edward by Isabel Vincent
Inhabited by Charlie Quimby
Pachinko by Min Jin Lee
One Good Mama Bone by Bren McClain
The Excellent Lombards by Jane Hamilton
You and I and Someone Else by Anna Schachner
Meantime by Katharine Noel
The Portrait by Antoine Laurain
So Much Blue by Perceval Everett
The Velveteen Daughter by Laurel Davis Huber
Mothers and Other Strangers by Gina Sorell
This Must Be the Place by Maggie O'Farrell
How to Find Love in a Bookshop by Veronica Henry
Between Them by Richard Ford
Kinship of Clover by Ellen Meeropol
The Life She Was Given by Ellen Marie Wiseman
The Clay Girl by Heather Tucker
Morningstar by Ann Hood
Lucky Boy by Shanthi Sekaran
Song of Two Worlds by Alan Lightman
The Heart's Invisible Furies by John Boyne
Old Herbaceous by Reginald Arkell
The Original Ginny Moon by Benjamin Ludwig
A Season of Ruin by Anna Bradley
Incontinent on the Continent by Jane Christmas
We Were the Lucky Ones by Georgia Hunter
Broccoli and Other Tales of Food and Love by Lara Vapnyar
The Little French Bistro by Nina George
Sourdough by Robin Sloane
A Paris All Your Own edited by Eleanor Brown
The Rook by Daniel O'Malley
Living the Dream by Lauren Berry
Lawyer for the Dog by Lee Robinson
Lily and the Octopus by Stephen Rowley
Last Christmas in Paris by Hazel Gaynor and Heather Webb

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Review: Christmas at Little Beach Street Bakery by Jenny Colgan

When you've enjoyed the first two books in a trilogy, there's a happy, comfortable feeling when you open the third to revisit the characters and places you've already gotten to know. When the characters and the place are as delightful and lovely as those in Jenny Colgan's Little Beach Street Bakery trilogy, it is pure pleasure to meet them again. In Christmas at the Little Beach Street Bakery, we have the chance to check in again with Polly, Huckle, Neil the domesticated puffin, Kerensa and Reuben, and all of the inhabitants of the isolated little fishing village of Mount Polbearne in Cornwall.

At the end of Summer at the Little Beach Street Bakery, Polly has overcome several major challenges but once again, happily ever after isn't the way that life works outside of fairy tales and she stumbles into new and different challenges, in her relationship with Huckle, in her friendship with Kerensa (and Reuben), and in her own personal history. Each of these new challenges affects each other and ratchets up the stress in Polly's life, as if it wasn't hard enough for her to be perpetually broke and worried about the people and animals around her.

Polly is as warm and wonderful a character as she has been in the previous two novels. She is again brought low emotionally by things that are both beyond her control (Kerensa's secret and her missing father's abrupt appearance in her life) and by things within her control (misunderstandings with Huckle over marriage and babies and her relationship with her mother) but she never loses the giving nature that so endears her to readers.  The secondary characters are much as they were in previous books as well, giving readers a comfortable feeling of coming home when they open these pages.  As in the other books, there are some darker themes addressed like infidelity, abandonment, the price of loyalty, and fear, and Polly has to face the lack of a large and full family in her life that she's never quite come to terms with. Despite these weighty themes, the novel offers as much delight as a warm loaf of Polly's freshly baked bread and ends on a cheery, uplifting, and beautiful note of love, friendship, and reconciliation. I'm sorry the story is over but I'm glad I got to spend a little more time in Mount Polbearne and I'll definitely look forward to Colgan's next series.

For more information about Jenny Colgan and the book, check out her website, like her on Facebook or follow her on Twitter. Check out the book's Goodreads page, follow the rest of the blog tour, or look at the amazon reviews for others' thoughts and opinions on the book.
Thanks to Trish from TLC Book Tours and the Harper Collins for sending me a copy of this book to review.

Waiting on Wednesday

This meme is hosted by Breaking the Spine and is meant to highlight some great pre-publication books we all can't wait to get our grubby little mitts on.

House of Shadows by Nicola Cornick.

The book is being released by Graydon House on October 17, 2017.

Amazon says this about the book: The wooded hills of Oxfordshire conceal the remains of the aptly named Ashdown House—a wasted pile of cinders and regret. Once home to the daughter of a king, Ashdown and its secrets will unite three women across four centuries in a tangle of intrigue, deceit and destiny…

In the winter of 1662, Elizabeth Stuart, the Winter Queen, is on her deathbed. She entrusts an ancient pearl, rumored to have magic power, to her faithful cavalier William Craven for safekeeping. In his grief, William orders the construction of Ashdown Estate in her memory and places the pearl at its center.

One hundred and fifty years later, notorious courtesan Lavinia Flyte hears the maids at Ashdown House whisper of a hidden treasure, and bears witness as her protector Lord Evershot—desperate to find it—burns the building to the ground.

Now, a battered mirror and the diary of a Regency courtesan are the only clues Holly Ansell has to finding her brother, who has gone missing researching the mystery of Elizabeth Stuart and her alleged affair with Lord Craven. As she retraces his footsteps, Holly's quest will soon reveal the truth about Lavinia and compel her to confront the stunning revelation about the legacy of the Winter Queen.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Review: The Fire by Night by Teresa Messineo

In a war the size of WWII, a war that threatened to swallow the entire world whole, there are endless stories to tell about it. There are traditional war stories about the soldiers and the generals. There are stories about the civilians and the way that their cities and lives exploded while the world was seemingly self-destructing. And there are the stories of the non-combatants like the field medics, the surgeons, and the nurses who enlisted and did the terrible, necessary jobs that war demands, the people whose stories are so often untold. Teresa Messineo's debut novel tells the story of two enlisted nurses, in two different theaters of this agonizing war as they struggle to survive themselves while still ministering to others. It is a powerful, visceral, and crucial tale to tell.

Jo McMahon is an Italian-Irish girl from the Bronx who enlisted after she finished nursing school. As the novel opens on the European theater, she is preparing to move out with the rest of the staff and patients in her hospital unit due to the shifting front line.  It turns out she has to remain behind with six injured men and an elderly doctor whose grasp on reality is questionable when there proves to be no room in the caravan for all of them, but it should only be a short wait until the trucks return. When the trucks don't come back, Jo and the men are stranded, alone and cut off from the rest of the hospital unit. She vows to keep the men alive even in the face of ongoing tragedy, increasing danger, diminishing food supplies, and almost constant, if numbing, terror. Meanwhile, her best friend from nursing school, Kay Elliott, a small town Midwestern girl, has been posted to the Pacific where the rounds of parties and fun stopped abruptly with the bombing of Pearl Harbor. With the war not going well, Kay, her fellow nurses, and patients have taken shelter in the dark and claustrophobic Malinta Tunnel, a place that cannot hold out in the face of the advancing Japanese. and so she ends up in a POW camp, starving and witnessing the appalling atrocities during and after the Bataan Death March but still determined to serve others in her capacity as a nurse.

Both Jo and Kay faced huge losses personally because of the war but their dedication to their calling and those who depended on them was unflagging, even if it was done with damaged and aching hearts. The narration alternates between Jo's and Kay's experiences, detailing the overwhelming horrors of the war, showing the difficult and unthinking bravery that the women showed, and chronicling the suffering and loss that today we almost cannot imagine. Messineo has thoroughly researched life for combat nurses in WWII and has brought this life into stark detail on the page. The characters of Jo and Kay are both broken and heroic. As the war winds down and finally ends, the immediacy of the novel tapers off but it still shows, through Jo and Kay, the lingering effects of having been to war and witnessed inhumanity on a grand scale and also showcases what life outside of the intensity and survivalist mode that war necessitates looks like, giving the ending a very different tone than the first three quarters of the novel. Jo and Kay's stories only overlap very minimally, generally in flashbacks to their time in nursing school, so the novel is not so much a novel of friendship as it is of love and loss, bravery, and amazing endurance. Fans of WWII novels, those who appreciate strong but imperfect female characters, and those who enjoy gritty historical fiction will find this to be well worth the read.

For more information about Teresa Messineo and the book, check out her website or like her on Facebook. Check out the book's Goodreads page, follow the rest of the blog tour, or look at the amazon reviews for others' thoughts and opinions on the book.
Thanks to Trish from TLC Book Tours and the Harper Collins for sending me a copy of this book to review.

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

I didn't manage to post this last week as I was Italy (poor me, right?!) so this is two weeks' worth of stuff. This meme is hosted by Kathryn at Reading Date.

Books I completed this past week are:

Caroline by Sarah Miller
The Crows of Beara by Julie Christine Johnson
The Little French Bistro by Julie Christine Johnson
Sourdough by Robin Sloane
A Paris All Your Own edited by Eleanor Brown
The Fire by Night by Teresa Messineo
The Rook by Daniel O'Malley
Living the Dream by Lauren Berry

Bookmarks are still living in the middle of:

A Well-Made Bed by Abby Frucht and Laurie Alberts
The Children's Crusade by Ann Packer
The Lake House by Kate Morton
Shelter by Jung Yun
The Center of the World by Jacqueline Sheehan
A Manual For Cleaning Women by Lucia Berlin
The Beauty of the End by Debbie Howells
Country of Red Azaleas by Domnica Radulescu
A Hard and Heavy Thing by Matthew J. Hefti
Paint Your Wife by Lloyd Jones
The Company They Kept edited by Robert B. Silvers and Barbara Epstein
No One Can Pronounce My Name by Rakesh Satyal
Lily and the Octopus by Stephen Rowley
Thousand-Miler by Melanie Radzicki McManus
Dear Fang, With Love by Rufi Thorpe
Close Enough to Touch by Colleen Oakley
America's First Daughter by Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie
Hope Has Two Daughters by Monia Mazigh
After the Bloom by Leslie Shimotakahara
Metis Beach by Claudine Bourbonnais
Smoke by Dan Vyleta
Coco Chanel by Lisa Chaney
Every Anxious Wave by Mo Daviao

Reviews posted this week:

The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd
The Other Alcott by Elise Hooper
Caroline by Sarah Miller
The Last Time She Saw Him by Jane Haseldine
A Florence Diary by Diana Athill
The Crows of Beara by Julie Christine Johnson
Breaking Up Is Hard to Do But You Could Have Done Better by Hilary Fitzgerald Campbell
The Mortifications by Derek Palacio
Good Karma by Christina Kelly

Books still needing to have reviews written (as opposed to the ones that are simply awaiting posting):

The Woman Next Door by Yewande Omotoso
To Love the Coming End by Leanne Dunic
The Peculiar Life of a Lonely Postman by Denis Theriault
A Loving, Faithful Animal by Josephine Rowe
City Mouse by Stacey Lender
Cutting Back by Leslie Buck
Siracusa by Delia Ephron
The Wife, the Maid, and the Mistress by Ariel Lawhon
A Narrow Bridge by J.J. Gersher
The Never-Open Desert Diner by James Anderson
The Heart of Henry Quantum by Pepper Harding
The Hearts of Men by Nickolas Butler
Dance of the Jakaranda by Peter Kimani
How to Survive a Summer by Nick White
Bramton Wick by Elizabeth Fair
The Finishing School by Joanna Goodman
Meet Me in the In-Between by Bella Pollen
All Grown Up by Jami Attenberg
The Island of Books by Dominique Fortier
Lights On, Rats Out by Cree LeFavour
Salt Houses by Hala Alyan
Him, Me, Muhammad Ali by Randa Jarrar
What Are the Blind Men Dreaming? by Noemi Jaffee
Girl in Snow by Danya Kukafka
The Lying Game by Ruth Ware
The Talker by Mary Sojourner
When the Sky Fell Apart by Caroline Lea
The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid
'Round Midnight by Laura McBride
The German Girl by Armando Lucas Correa
The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane by Lisa See
The Jane Austen Project by Kathleen A. Flynn
Last Things by Marissa Moss
All Our Wrong Todays by Elan Mastai
Civilianized by Michael Anthony
The Redemption of Galen Pike by Carys Davies
Woman No. 17 by Edan Lepucki
In the Woods of Memory by Shun Medoruma
Before the Wind by Jim Lynch
Dinner with Edward by Isabel Vincent
Inhabited by Charlie Quimby
Pachinko by Min Jin Lee
One Good Mama Bone by Bren McClain
The Excellent Lombards by Jane Hamilton
You and I and Someone Else by Anna Schachner
Meantime by Katharine Noel
The Portrait by Antoine Laurain
So Much Blue by Perceval Everett
The Velveteen Daughter by Laurel Davis Huber
Mothers and Other Strangers by Gina Sorell
This Must Be the Place by Maggie O'Farrell
How to Find Love in a Bookshop by Veronica Henry
Between Them by Richard Ford
Kinship of Clover by Ellen Meeropol
The Life She Was Given by Ellen Marie Wiseman
The Clay Girl by Heather Tucker
Morningstar by Ann Hood
Lucky Boy by Shanthi Sekaran
Song of Two Worlds by Alan Lightman
The Heart's Invisible Furies by John Boyne
Old Herbaceous by Reginald Arkell
The Original Ginny Moon by Benjamin Ludwig
A Season of Ruin by Anna Bradley
Incontinent on the Continent by Jane Christmas
We Were the Lucky Ones by Georgia Hunter
Broccoli and Other Tales of Food and Love by Lara Vapnyar
The Little French Bistro by Julie Christine Johnson
Sourdough by Robin Sloane
A Paris All Your Own edited by Eleanor Brown
The Fire by Night by Teresa Messineo
The Rook by Daniel O'Malley
Living the Dream by Lauren Berry

Monday Mailbox

This past week's mailbox arrivals:

Start Without Me by Joshua Max Feldman came from William Morrow and TLC Book Tours for a blog tour.

Thanksgiving can bring out the worst (or best) in people so this novel about two strangers bonding on this family, secrets, and tension filled day appeals to me a lot.

The It Girls by Karen Harper came from William Morrow and TLC Book Tours for a blog tour.

There's just something about the time around the nineteen teens and twenties, isn't there? I can't wait to read this novel based on two real-life ambitious sisters who make it big in their own worlds (fashion and Hollywood) in this crazy era.

Travels in Mauritania by Peter Hudson came from me for a traveling the world through books challenge I'm participating in.

Obviously I'll be reading this one for the country of Mauritania but I have always thrilled to travelogues of places I've never even given a passing thought to so I am looking forward to this.

My Heart Will Cross This Ocean by Katiatou Diallo came from me for a traveling the world through books challenge I'm participating in.

This memoir is for Guinea in my book challenge, chronicling life in the African country before it crosses the ocean to the US after the author's son was shot in New York City.

Million Dollar Baby by Amy Patricia Meade came from me for me.

A mystery writer stumbles across a body and must delve into the history of the mansion where the body was found and solve the murder? This sounds like a mystery I might even like!

If you want to see the marvelous goodies in other people's mailboxes, make sure to visit Mailbox Monday and have fun seeing how we are all doing our part to keep the USPS and delivery services viable.

Popular Posts