Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Review: The Girl From the Paradise Ballroom by Alison Love

If you wanted to escape something, what would it be? Would it be your native country and the lack of opportunities there? Would it be the stultifying, unpromising ordinariness of your life? Would it be conventional society? Each of the major characters in Alison Love's novel, The Girl From the Paradise Ballroom, is trying to escape something and make a better, more suitable life for themselves in this historical tale of love and loss just as the world goes crazy heading into war.

Opening in 1940 with the arrest of Antonio Trombetta, the novel quickly moves back in time to 1937 to the root of the troubles that precipitated his arrest. Antonio is the oldest son of an Italian immigrant family. He's married and has a baby on the way. He works at his family's kiosk during the day and sings at clubs at night. His younger brother, father, and even his young wife are all intrigued by Fascism and support the rise of Mussolini from afar and to varying degrees. Antonio just wants to be able to work hard to make a better life for his family without having to declare an allegiance to a political belief he does not hold.

Olivia Johnson is a dancer at one of the clubs Antonio sings at one night and he is inexplicably drawn to her as he watches her dance. When he comes across her in a vulnerable moment, the two of them are bonded by that moment and the knowledge of it forever. The next time he sees her, several months later, Olivia has met and married Bernard, a wealthy patron of the arts who takes the talented Antonio under his wing as a protegee. As Olivia and Antonio are thrown together, they form a sort of friendship rife with undercurrents of more. But as they each try to invent themselves as they want to be, World War II is heating up. Britain starts rounding up enemy aliens to send them to internment camps and everyone waits to see which side of the war Mussolini will choose to align Italy with and how that will affect Italian immigrants like Antonio.

Capturing the steeply rising prejudice of the British against Italians, the continued disparities of class, and the question of selfhood in marriage, Love has taken a different tack from many WWII novels. Both Antonio and Olivia are outsiders in their respective worlds. He has no wish to declare a political affiliation or for repatriation to Italy, unlike so many others in his community. She comes from a middling upbringing that prepares her in no way for the upper crust life into which she marries. And husband Bernard, after the initial joy in her inferior beginnings and difference from the women of his own class, wants her to conform to that which he was rebelling against, wants her to change into a woman she never was. They are not the only outsiders in the narrative though. Filomena, Antonio's sister, is walking out with a British police officer, falling in love with him, as he is with her, a situation that would scandalize the community if it was known. This outsider status is isolating in so many ways and none of these characters has the luxury of confiding the whole of their hearts to anyone else. The reader is privy to all of their hearts though, through the rotating narration. Interestingly, even seeing the events from multiple perspectives, the love story between Antonio and Olivia doesn't quite come together as something wonderful, fated, and inescapably romantic. Rather it seems a shared refuge from loneliness and the unhappiness of the lives they are leading. Although the novel is set during the war and all of the characters live in London, the actual reality of the war is quite distant until Antonio is arrested. As a story, it was indeed sad; so many of the characters in it were trying to escape to something happier and yet they didn't achieve all they hoped for. So beware the ending that tries to rectify too much. But those people who enjoy historical novels, especially stories that shine a light on a lesser known bit of history like this one does on the lives of Italians in London at the time, will find their curiousity piqued here. Ultimately, the dual pulls of love and loyalty, to family, to country, and to self, make this a poignant and interesting read.

For more information about Alison Love, take a look at her publisher's author page or follow her on Twitter. Check out the book's Good Reads page, follow the rest of the blog tour, or look at the amazon reviews for others' thoughts and opinions on the book.

Thanks to Lisa from TLC Book Tours and the publisher 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.

At the Edge of Summer by Jessica Brockmole. The book is being released by Knopf on May 17, 2016.

Amazon says this about the book: Luc Crépet is accustomed to his mother’s bringing wounded creatures to their idyllic château in the French countryside, where healing comes naturally amid the lush wildflowers and crumbling stone walls. Yet his maman’s newest project is the most surprising: a fifteen-year-old Scottish girl grieving over her parents’ fate. A curious child with an artistic soul, Claire Ross finds solace in her connection to Luc, and she in turn inspires him in ways he never thought possible. Then, just as suddenly as Claire arrives, she is gone, whisked away by her grandfather to the farthest reaches of the globe. Devastated by her departure, Luc begins to write letters to Claire—and, even as she moves from Portugal to Africa and beyond, the memory of the summer they shared keeps her grounded.

Years later, in the wake of World War I, Clare, now an artist, returns to France to help create facial prostheses for wounded soldiers. One of the wary veterans who comes to the studio seems familiar, and as his mask takes shape beneath her fingers, she recognizes Luc. But is this soldier, made bitter by battle and betrayal, still the same boy who once wrote her wistful letters from Paris? After war and so many years apart, can Clare and Luc recapture how they felt at the edge of that long-ago summer?

Bringing to life two unforgettable characters and the rich historical period they inhabit, Jessica Brockmole shows how love and forgiveness can redeem us.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Review: Father's Day by Simon Van Booy

Several years ago, I read Simon Van Booy's novel, The Illusion of Separateness. It was a profoundly moving novel of interconnected vignettes and I was anxious to see what Van Booy would do in a more traditional novel. He is still a beautiful writer but his newest novel, Father's Day, didn't quite have the same luminous feel that the previous one did. This novel is different in so many ways and while I loved the other one more, it was still a worthwhile reading experience.

Harvey is just six years old when her parents die in a car accident. The only family she has left to her is her Uncle Jason, a man she's never met, a man her mother never acknowledged, a man who her father spoke of rarely although protectively. Jason is not the sort of man you'd think of to raise an orphaned child. He is an ex-con, sent to prison for fighting and blinding another man. He is disabled, having lost a leg in a motorcycle accident, and unemployed, surviving by selling things online. He's building a custom motorcycle in his garage whenever he can find the money to buy parts. And he struggles with the demons of his easily provoked rage often. There's not really any space in his life for a niece he's never met. Yet Wanda, the social worker assigned to Harvey's case, sees beneath the obvious disqualifications to the very heart of him and is determined to place Harvey in his care.

The story alternates between the past and the present, starting with Harvey's life before the accident that left her orphaned and then flipping to present day Paris, where she has a wonderful creative job and is preparing for her father to come and visit her. She has discovered something she wants to confront him about. Her preparations and their visit together are interleaved with the story of her childhood and growing up years. There are also glimpses of the terrible childhood that Jason and her father lived as well. The reader watches as Jason learns to be a father, sees him determined to control his impulsive anger, to allow the caring portion of himself not destroyed by his own father's abuse to come to the fore in loving this child, and finally in cherishing her as a father does.  The flipping back and forth in time serves the story but can be awkward in execution, making for an uneven narrative tension. Jason's character is uneducated but his language drifts in and out of sounding that way, making it a bit inconsistent in voice.  And the ending is too tidy and predictable.  But the plain and rooted caring between this reluctant father and the daughter he inherits is touching and lovely and those who enjoy simple, unadorned stories of created families will appreciate this emotionally loaded and heart warming tale of family, unconditional love, and belonging.

For more information about Simon Van Booy, take a look at his website, like him on Facebook, or follow him on Twitter. Check out the book's Good Reads 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 for prompting me to take this off my shelf and read it.

Monday, April 25, 2016

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

This meme is hosted by Kathryn at Reading Date.

Books I completed this past week are:

Alice in Bed by Judith Hooper
A Scandalous Proposal by Kasey Michaels
Girl in the Blue Coat by Monica Hesse
Mrs. Engels by Gavin McCrea
The Iceberg by Marion Coutts
Father's Day by Simon Van Booy
The Girl From the Paradise Ballroom by Alison Love

Bookmarks are still living in the middle of:

A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara
You Have Never Been Here by Mary Rickert
West With the Night by Beryl Markham

Reviews posted this week:

Alice in Bed by Judith Hooper
A Scandalous Proposal by Kasey Michaels

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

My Fat Dad by Dawn Lerman
The Ice Cream Queen of Orchard Street by Susan Jane Gilman
My Confection by Lisa Kotin
Put a Ring on It by Beth Kendrick
One Perfect Summer by Paige Toon
The Things We Keep by Sally Hepworth
The Sisters of Versailles by Sally Christie The Private Papers of Eastern Jewel by Maureen Lindley
Be Frank With Me by Julia Claiborne Johnson
American Housewife by Helen Ellis
The Two-Family House by Lynda Cohen Loigman
The Husband's Secret by Liane Moriarty
Margaret the First by Danielle Dutton
Closer All the Time by Jim Nichols
The Versions of Us by Laura Barnett
Over the Plain Houses by Julia Franks
The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah
Forsaken by Ross Howell Jr.
The Cosmopolitans by Sarah Schulman
The Spice Box Letters by Eve Makis
Britt-Marie Was Here by Fredrik Backman
A Very Special Year by Thomas Montasser
Specimen by Irina Kovalyova
One True Loves by Taylor Jenkins Reid
The Telling by Zoe Zolbrod
The Transmigration of Bodies by Yuri Herrera
The Boy Who Speaks in Numbers by Mike Masilamani
Everyone Brave Is Forgiven by Chris Cleave
Every Exquisite Thing by Matthew Quick
What Comes Next and How to Like It by Abigail Thomas
After the Dam by Amy Hassinger
Our Spoons Came From Woolworths by Barbara Comyns
Umami by Laia Jufresa
The Education of a Poker Player by James McManus
Girl in the Blue Coat by Monica Hesse
Mrs. Engels by Gavin McCrea
The Iceberg by Marion Coutts
Father's Day by Simon Van Booy
The Girl From the Paradise Ballroom by Alison Love

Monday Mailbox

This past week's mailbox arrivals:

The House of Hawthorne by Erika Robuck came from New American Library.

Newly out in paperback, I reviewed it in hardcover here.

Wrong Highway by Wendy Gordon came from Shepherdess Books and TLC Book Tours for a blog tour.

An appearances can be deceiving book about a woman whose life looks settled and perfect until she takes on her rebellious nephew and sends her own life and that of her whole family off the expected course, this looks like quite a ride.

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.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Review: A Scandalous Proposal by Kasey Michaels

Sometimes a witty, happy diversion is just what you need in your reading life. That it would come, as most romances do, with a guaranteed happily ever after is icing on the cake. Kasey Michaels' newest Regency-set historical novel, A Scandalous Proposal, the first in The Little Season set of books, is just such an entertaining delight.

Cooper Townsend is known as the hero of Quatre Bras and although no one is quite certain exactly what that means and rumors abound, everyone in London society knows that he was given a title, lands, and an income by the Prince Regent for his heroic actions. Even without the particulars, these three gifts are enough to make him the target of matchmaking mamas and their daughters and the toast of the town. But Coop's getting more than a little tired of all the adulation and flirting, wanting nothing more than to fade into obscurity. It appears that someone is very invested in not letting this happen though as short chapbooks telling of his supposed exploits are being published anonymously, adding to his acclaim. Then a blackmail note threatening a final chapbook, exposing his actions and the truth behind them, which no one is supposed to know, arrives and Coop has to get serious about stopping this threat. At the same time, Dany Foster's sister, the Duchess of Cockermouth, also receives a note from a blackmailer, threatening to expose her ill-advised correspondence with a man not her husband. Dany wants to help her sister, deciding that Marietta needs a hero to help her recover the silly but incriminating notes and eliminate the threat of exposure. So it is fortuitous indeed when she literally bumps into Coop in the street. Intrigued by the red-haired, forthright young woman, Coop is drawn to help Dany help her sister, despite his own misgivings. When Dany and Coop join forces, they discover that they are both working against the same blackmailer and that they look forward to their collaboration much more than they should given the stakes they are facing.

The entire course of the novel takes place over a very brief space of time and yet this shortened timeline doesn't seem to make it feel frantic or accelerated (although perhaps it should, at least to some extent). Despite that, this is a romping, madcap sort of novel. Coop and Dany fall in love with an indecent sort of haste but they don't have time for some silly misunderstanding to keep them apart or to break their sham engagement. Instead, the reader is treated to glee-filled banter and a growing appreciation for the happiness they feel in each others' company. In a nice change of pace, the mystery of who the blackmailer is gives the novel its narrative tension. The scandals are only scandalous in the context of the story's time so it's not hard to retain the good feelings both Dany and Coop inspire in the reader. That they can actually work together without manufactured strife is also a breath of fresh air. The novel is fun and frothy, perfect for Regency fans who appreciate a slightly different twist on their favorite stories.

For more information about Kasey Michaels, take a look at her website or like her on Facebook. Check out the book's Good Reads page, follow the rest of the blog tour, or look at the amazon reviews for others' thoughts and opinions on the book.

Thanks to Lisa from TLC Book Tours.

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.

Fading Starlight by Kathryn Cushman. The book is being released by Bethany House on May 3, 2016.

Amazon says this about the book: Lauren Summers is hiding. Her fashion house internship should have launched her career, but a red carpet accident has left her blackballed. The only job she finds is unpaid, but comes with free lodging--a run-down cottage in the shadow of a cliff-side mansion. Unsure of what comes next, she's surprised to be contacted by a reporter researching a reclusive former Hollywood ingénue who lives in the nearby mansion.

Kendall Joiner wants Lauren's help uncovering the old woman's secrets. In return, she'll prove the red carpet accident was a publicity stunt so Lauren can regain her former job. With all her dreams in front of her, Lauren's tempted by the offer, but as she and the old woman get to know each other, Lauren realizes nothing is quite as it seems.

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