Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Review: In Another Time by Jillian Cantor

Would you have left Germany in the years leading up to World War II? It's easy to sit at this historical remove and declare that you would have seen the imminent danger and the toxic, spreading hate and left. But so many people didn't leave. For those with the money and the ability to go, especially the Jews with the money and ability to go, why didn't they? What kept them tied to a Germany becoming increasingly hostile to them? Jillian Cantor's newest novel looks at one young Jewish woman who chose to stay and the young Christian man who loved her and vowed to protect her.

In 1931, when bookstore owner Max Beissinger stumbles into the wrong auditorium at the Lyceum, he is transfixed by the magical violin music he hears and the lovely young woman playing it. Despite her horror at his accidental intrusion on her practice session, they eventually come together and fall in love. Their road is not an easy one though. Hanna is a Jew and Max is not. Max disappears for weeks and months at a time with no contact beyond a simple goodbye letter, never telling Hanna where he has been nor inviting her to join him. But they manage to come back together each time something tears them apart, seemingly fated to be with each other, in defiance of the rising anti-Semitism as Hitler gains more and more power. Max begs Hanna to leave Germany as freedom after freedom is curtailed but she refuses, saying that she is a German, Germany is her country too, and as an aspiring concert violinist, she will come to no one's notice. Max worries until he opens a forbidden closet in his bookstore. What's inside convinces him he can keep Hanna safe.

When Hanna opens her eyes in a cold field in 1946, she is convinced that she had just been in the bookstore with Max when four SA men broke into the shop.  How she got to the field and where Max is are both mysteries.  In fact, it's been a decade since that night and she has amnesia. Taken in by a kindly nun and then her older sister who thought she'd died in the Holocaust, Hanna struggles with the missing decade of her life and whatever happened to Max. Her violin is the only thing she has to hold onto and she works towards making a living as a musician even as it strains her relationship with her sister. Healthy in body but with her traumatic amnesia seemingly permanent, she has to bring herself back to life through the music that still lives within her. She will always love Max, searching for him in the memories she cannot access, playing her violin like fire, and finding the passion within her.

The novel is told moving back and forth in time between Max and Hanna. Hanna's story only starts in 1946 as she tries to build a new life without knowing her past. Max's chapters start in 1931 and tell the story of the two of them meeting and falling in love as Max tracks Hitler's rise. Nothing that Max tells illuminates Hanna's missing years, leaving the reader as in the dark about her whereabouts during the war as she is. He tells of the years of their pre-war relationship and the reason behind his occasional months long absences that threaten to break them up. But he never tells Hanna why or where he's gone thinking she will never believe him. Their two stories work towards a crescendo of memory, loss, and enduring love in their two different timelines.

Cantor knows how to write engaging stories and this is no exception. Max and Hanna's relationship is occasionally volatile but their love feels real and strong. The mystery of Hanna's missing ten years and Max's whereabouts underpins almost the entire story and the reader is eager to find out the answers to these two questions as well as whether they can find each other and be together "in another time."  There is a speculative fiction piece to the story that feels out of place in this otherwise captivating novel. This piece is underdeveloped and comes rather out of the blue. It does offer another potential answer to Hanna's missing years but it sits strangely beside the otherwise realistic and emotional story of two lovers facing the coming danger of the Holocaust. Hanna and Max are well drawn and the secondary characters anchor them in time and place. This is a well-written and affecting, very different look at both pre-war Germany and post-war London and Europe and the people whose lives were rent apart by a terrible war.

Thanks to LibraryThing Early Reviewers for sending me a copy of this book to review.

Waiting on Wednesday

This meme was 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. I'm choosing to continue the tradition even though she has stopped.

The Promise of Elsewhere by Brad Leithauser.

The book is being released by Knopf on March 26, 2019.

The book's jacket copy says: A comic novel about a Midwestern professor who tries to prop up his failing prospects for happiness by setting out on the Journey of a Lifetime.

Louie Hake is forty-three and teaches architectural history at a third-rate college in Michigan. His second marriage is collapsing, and he's facing a potentially disastrous medical diagnosis. In an attempt to fend off what has become a soul-crushing existential crisis, he decides to treat himself to a tour of the world's most breathtaking architectural sites. Perhaps not surprisingly, Louie gets waylaid on his very first stop in Rome--ludicrously, spectacularly so--and fails to reach most of his other destinations. He embarks on a doomed romance with a jilted bride celebrating her ruined marriage plans alone in London. And in the Arctic he finds that turf houses and aluminum sheds don't amount to much of an architectural tradition. But it turns out that there's another sort of architecture there: icebergs the size of cathedrals, bobbing beside a strange and wondrous landscape. It soon becomes clear that Louie's grand journey is less about where his wanderings have taken him and more about where his past encounters with romance have not. Whether pursuing his first wife, or his estranged current wife, or the older woman he kissed just once a quarter-century ago, Louie reveals himself to be endearing, deeply touching, wonderfully ridiculous . . . and destined to find love in all the wrong places.

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Review: The Sisters Hemingway by Annie England Noblin

I jumped at this book because of the title. I know some people don't like Hemingway. But I fell in love with his The Old Man and the Sea when I first read it in school (junior high? high school?). And I have been fascinated by his complicated, ultimately tragic life ever since. So I might have felt a small stab of disappointment that there's nothing really Hemingway about the book other than the nod to Hemingway's multiple wives in the names of the main characters. But I got over the disappointment as I sank into the story of this messy family, the dysfunction amongst the adult sisters, the tragedy that set them on their respective paths, and the secrets, long buried and of newer province both, that were uncovered in the course of Annie England Noblin's newest novel.

Hadley, Pfeiffer, and Martha have all come home to the tiny Missouri Ozark town that they grew up in for the first time in years. They're back for the funeral of their Aunt Bea, the great aunt who stepped into their lives when their mother and youngest sister died in a tornado. Their father having died young of cancer, the sisters' lives were full of tragedy and sorrow. As each grew up in turn, they all moved away from town, never going back to visit, as much their own choice as because Aunt Bea, who hadn't spoken a word since her own girlhood flight from the town, didn't want them to come back. But each of them returns to pay tribute to the woman who stepped up for them and returned to the town she had left so long ago without a second thought. And each of the estranged sisters comes home bearing secrets and baggage she's keeping from her sisters.

Oldest sister Hadley is polished and poised, married to a Senator. She's incredibly worried about appearances, an uptight, unhappy cold fish but she's hiding the fact that her less than happy marriage has been over for a long time. Pfeiffer had gone to New York to be a writer but ended up as a successful senior editor, certain of her taste and opinions until she passed on the biggest, most successful book to come out in years, doing so in spectacular fashion and ending up by getting herself fired, something she's not willing to share with her sisters just yet. And Martha, the youngest, shot to fame as a country singer in Nashville, marrying another huge star who took credit for her songwriting. When her marriage failed, assuming she'd be nothing without her talented husband her label dropped her, and she sank into alcoholism. Now she's just out of rehab and trying to rediscover herself. Each of the sisters is at rock bottom and it will only be by relying on each other and old friends who have always cared about them to find a second chance, especially when Aunt Bea's journal surfaces and a secret far older than the sisters is uncovered in their own front yard.

The novel rotates among the sisters' perspectives so the reader knows each of the womens' secrets long before her sisters do. This style of narration highlights each sister's frustrations, fears, insecurities, and vulnerabilities very clearly and shows the slow building of trust as the sisters learn to rely on each other and to address the truth and tragedy of their shared past. The resolutions for the sisters are appropriate after all of the healing they faced together and although several of the plot lines, including the reveal surrounding the decades old family secret, are fairly predictable, this is still a likable story of family, resilience, and second chances. Fans of women's fiction and sister stories will gulp this down in no time at all.

For more information about Annie England Noblin and the book, like the author on Facebook or follow her on Twitter or Instagram. Check out the book's Goodreads page, follow the rest of the blog tour, or look at the reviews for others' thoughts and opinions on the book.

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

Monday, February 18, 2019

Review: The Forgotten Guide to Happiness by Sophie Jenkins

Write what you know. It's the famous writing advice doled out to every aspiring writer there is. And there's a good reason for it but what happens when you don't want to write about what you know anymore, when you're having trouble finding anything in the creative well, and certainly not finding anything anyone else wants to read? In Sophie Jenkins' novel The Forgotten Guide to Happiness, one of the main characters is facing just this very crisis but life will soon present her with inspiration and understanding from unexpected quarters.

Lana Green wrote a breakout novel based on her real life romance with live-in boyfriend Mark. She's under contract for another book in the same vein but she can't write the book her publisher is looking for because Mark has dumped her long distance and she's going to have to give up their once shared apartment, not having the money to continue to live there. Of course she can't write a book with a happy ending right now when her life is falling apart. Then she meets a man named Jack, who claims he's ready to be her next hero. And he is, sort of. Not only will he go on pretend dates with her to help her with her writing inspiration, it turns out that his step-mother, Nancy Ellis Hall, a well known but now retired feminist writer, is in her eighties and suffering from ever worsening dementia so she needs an in home caregiver. Excited about the proximity to such a well known writer, Lana is delighted to move in, help Nancy, and maybe pick up some valuable writing tips at the same time. She doesn't expect to learn about love and friendship too but she certainly does.

Readers start off feeling sorry for Lana, who has clearly been completely blindsided and heartbroken by Mark's decision to leave. But Lana, similarly to the protagonist of her thinly veiled autobiographical novel, is rather weak and her wallowing and self-centeredness really starts to grate. She needs to write her own story, both figuratively and literally. Her unhappiness at having to take a job teaching a writing class and her impression of her students is dismissive and unkind, especially given her own writer's block. Thankfully her impressions do change and the writing class people teach her as much as or more than she teaches them. While she is good and understanding with Nancy, she continues to look for ways that Nancy can benefit her, from taking her to the writing class to wow her students to reading Nancy's journals in hopes of a kernel of an idea to write about. She is clearly a flawed and not always likable character but she is consistent until 2/3 of the way through the book when she abandons everything she's learned and becomes a character the reader doesn't even recognize, not just because she makes a dreadfully poor decision, but because this out of character interlude causes the story to sort of fall apart. Once she recognizes her mistake, about six seconds from the end of the book, the entire ending is scanty, rushed, and unearned.

Nancy, in all of her quirkiness and with her failing memory, is delightful and step-son Jack is charming and forgiving in a way that makes the reader really root for this beta hero, even if he doesn't believe in love.  That's okay though as this is not really a romance.  Since the novel is told in the first person by Lana, the reader spends more time with her (and often times frustrated by her) than they do with Nancy and Jack. This short-changes Jack's character in terms of depth but Nancy's was still heart-warmingly fleshed out. Even inhabiting Lana's perspective, sometimes her reasoning for her choices is not always clear or well developed. Despite this maddening lack, it was genuinely nice to watch her interact with the other characters and learn the true meaning of caring for other people, wanting the best for them and for herself, both in love and in friendship. In the end, this is an easy, generally sweet read that didn't quite live up to my expectations.

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

This meme is hosted by Kathryn at Reading Date.

Books I completed this past week are:

The Sisters Hemingway by Annie England Noblin
The Magnetic Girl by Jessica Handle
Tiny Americans by Devin Murphy
Oh, Tama! by Mieko Kanai
The Red Address Book by Sofia Lundberg
In Another Time by Jillian Cantor

Bookmarks are still living in the middle of:

America's First Daughter by Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie
Metis Beach by Claudine Bourbonnais
Smoke by Dan Vyleta
Coco Chanel by Lisa Chaney
The Resurrection of Joan Ashby by Cherise Wolas
The Bottom of the Sky by Rodrigo Fresan
A Breath of Snow and Ashes by Diana Gabaldon
The Confessions of Young Nero by Margaret George
The Baghdad Clock by Shahad Al Rawi

Reviews posted this week:

nothing because I have been consumed with Great Group Reads administrative stuff

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

The Forgotten Guide to Happiness by Sophie Jenkins
Surviving Paradise by Peter Rudiak-Gould
Winter Garden by Kristin Hannah
An Elderly Lady Is Up To No Good by Helene Tursten
The Girl Who Smiled Beads by Clemantine Wamariya
Red, White and Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston
Rules of Surrender by Christina Dodd
The Sisters Hemingway by Annie England Noblin
The Magnetic Girl by Jessica Handle
Tiny Americans by Devin Murphy
Oh, Tama! by Mieko Kanai
The Red Address Book by Sofia Lundberg
In Another Time by Jillian Cantor

Monday Mailbox

This past three week's mailbox arrivals:

The Sisters Hemingway by Annie England Noblin came from TLC Book Tours and William Morrow for a book tour.

Do I really have to give you a reason why a book with three sisters named after Hemingway's wives would appeal to me? To be fair, stories about sisters just plain appeal to me but add in a nod to Hemingway and you have me hook, line, and sinker.

The Women of the Copper Country by Mary Doria Russell came from Atria.

Mary Doria Russell. ::swoon:: Upper Peninsula Michigan. ::double swoon:: Historical fiction by Russell and set in the UP, well, of course I will.

Mariana by Monica Dickens came from a friend for a book exchange.

Do you see this cover? Persephone Books does beautiful books and this is one of them. That it's a bildungsroman about a girl growing up in the 1930s is icing on the cake!

The Art of Baking Blind by Sarah Vaughan came from a friend for a book exchange.

This sounds a bit like the book version of The Great British Baking Show and who can resist that?

Gold by Chris Cleave came from a friend for a book exchange.

Cleave's Little Bee was impressive and I'm looking forward to this one about two Olympians, friends and rivals, going for the gold and the sacrifices each woman has made and will continue to make to win.

The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George came from a friend for a book exchange.

A book set on a bookshop barge on the Seine with an owner who can prescribe the right book for his readers, unable only to find the book to soothe his own soul, this looks captivating.

100 Dives of a Lifetime by Carrie Miller and Brian Skerry came from TLC Book Tours and National Geographic for a book tour.

I adore being under the water and probably wouldn't surface if I didn't have to. But since I still have to breathe air when the scuba tank is empty, a gorgeous book like this can keep me going until I can get back underwater. I feel certain it will add to the places I want to dive someday.

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, February 13, 2019

Waiting on Wednesday

This meme was 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. I'm choosing to continue the tradition even though she has stopped.

Baby of the Family by Maura Roosevelt.

The book is being released by Dutton on March 5, 2019.

The book's jacket copy says: The money is old, the problems are new.

A wry and addictive debut about a modern-day American dynasty and its unexpected upheaval when the patriarch wills his dwindling fortune to his youngest, adopted son—setting off a chain of events that unearth family secrets and test long-held definitions of love and family.

The Whitbys: a dynasty akin to the Astors, once enormously wealthy real-estate magnates who were considered “the landlords of New York.”

There was a time when the death of a Whitby would have made national news, but when the family patriarch, Roger, dies, he is alone. Word of his death travels from the longtime family lawyer to his clan of children (from four separate marriages) and the news isn't good. Roger has left everything to his twenty-one-year-old son Nick, a Whitby only in name, including the houses currently occupied by Shelley and Brooke—two of Roger’s daughters from different marriages. And Nick is nowhere to be found.

Brooke, the oldest of the children, who is unexpectedly pregnant, leads the search for Nick, hoping to convince him to let her keep her Boston home and her fragile composure. Shelley hasn’t told anyone she’s dropped out of college just months before graduating, and is living in her childhood apartment while working as an amanuensis for a blind architect, with whom she develops a rather complicated relationship. And when Nick, on the run from the law after a misguided and dramatic act of political activism, finally shows up at Shelley’s New York home, worlds officially collide as Nick and the architect's daughter fall in love. Soon, all three siblings are faced with the question they have been running from their whole lives: What do they want their future to look like, if they can finally escape their past?

Weaving together multiple perspectives to create a portrait of an American family, and an American dream gone awry, Baby of the Family is a book about family secrets—how they define us, bind us together, and threaten to blow us (and more) apart—as well as an amusing and heartwarming look at the various ways in which a family can be created.

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