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My name is Ardis and I am an avid reader and budding writer. I want to share my love of books with others. I work with kids and am interested in finding and creating books that will ignite the reader in everyone. Contact me at: ardis.atkins@gmail.com

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I Owe You One
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society
Love, Hate & Other Filters
The Wartime Sisters
The Belles
The Gilded Wolves
Hey, Kiddo
Blackberry and Wild Rose
Queen of Air and Darkness
Firestarter
The Retribution of Mara Dyer
The Evolution of Mara Dyer


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Monday, January 24, 2022

ARC Review: The Magnolia Palace by Fiona Davis



Please Note:  I received an advance copy of this novel from NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review.  This did not influence the opinions in my review in any way.

Synopsis (from Goodreads):

Eight months since losing her mother in the Spanish flu outbreak of 1919, twenty-one-year-old Lillian Carter’s life has completely fallen apart. For the past six years, under the moniker Angelica, Lillian was one of the most sought-after artists’ models in New York City, with statues based on her figure gracing landmarks from the Plaza Hotel to the Brooklyn Bridge. But with her mother gone, a grieving Lillian is rudderless and desperate—the work has dried up and a looming scandal has left her entirely without a safe haven. So when she stumbles upon an employment opportunity at the Frick mansion—a building that, ironically, bears her own visage—Lillian jumps at the chance. But the longer she works as a private secretary to the imperious and demanding Helen Frick, the daughter and heiress of industrialist and art patron Henry Clay Frick, the more deeply her life gets intertwined with that of the family—pulling her into a tangled web of romantic trysts, stolen jewels, and family drama that runs so deep, the stakes just may be life or death.

Nearly fifty years later, mod English model Veronica Weber has her own chance to make her career—and with it, earn the money she needs to support her family back home—within the walls of the former Frick residence, now converted into one of New York City’s most impressive museums. But when she—along with a charming intern/budding art curator named Joshua—is dismissed from the Vogue shoot taking place at the Frick Collection, she chances upon a series of hidden messages in the museum: messages that will lead her and Joshua on a hunt that could not only solve Veronica’s financial woes, but could finally reveal the truth behind a decades-old murder in the infamous Frick family.

Review:

I have a deep love of historical fiction novels, as they place the reader in a time and place that is often unknown.  Good historical fiction develops empathy for the characters and helps us understand the past.  In the last few years, author Fiona Davis has put out several novels, all set in New York City, that explore the challenges women face at different points in history.  The Magnolia Palace, her latest book, is a wonderful addition to Davis' list of achievements.  There were several characters that I quickly became invested in, and historical details about New York that I didn't know about.  For fans of historical fiction, this is a must-read!

What I Liked:

Historical Details:

This novel actually is set in two different historical periods, 1919, and 1966.  Both time periods are richly drawn.  In 1919, New York is a city of contrasts.  Some neighborhoods are filled with tenements, with the threat of severe poverty just around the corner.  Other areas are filled with mansions from The Gilded Age, with almost obscene excesses.  The concerns of poor and rich couldn't be more different.  I liked how the author showed how much the newspapers oft he day influenced the city.  If you were targeted by the gossip pages, your life could be ruined. 

In 1968, the Frick mansion has become the Frick Museum (an actual place in New York City), where the massive art collection of Henry Clay Frick is displayed.  But even in this setting, we can see the struggles of the time playing out.  A young black intern at the museum shows the reader about his challenges as he has to constantly prove he belongs there.  And Veronica, a young woman on a modeling assignment, is dealing with the harassment, and sexism that is so rampant in that time.  I was particularly struck be the details of what models had to bring on photoshoots.  The model, not the company who hires her, must provide her own makeup, jewelry, shoes, and other accessories for the assignment.  I can't imagine how expensive that must have been!  Again, the extravagance of the fashion world is in sharp contrast to realities of regular people who want to aspire to something more.

Story:

In 1919, The Gilded Age is over, and what is left in New York are mansions that are too big, and rich people living in the past.  For Henry Clay Frick, it means a reckoning at the end of his life.  What will his legacy be?  Does he want to be known as a union-busting villain, or as a dignified patron of the arts?  Obviously, he wants to be know for his massive art collection.  

For Lillian Carter, a twenty-year old sculptor's model who just lost her mother to the Spanish Flu, all she's thinking about is survival.  After she is implicated in a sordid murder, the newspapers of the time have a field day portraying her as little more than a prostitute.  She inadvertently stumbles into the Frick household, and is hired to be the personal secretary of Helen Frick.  No one in the house knows who she really is, so she feels this is a good place to hide in plain sight. As she settles into her new job, she finds that she is very good at organizing, planning, and carrying out projects.  She can earn a living using her mind, and not just her beauty.  However, Lillian seems to attract scandal wherever she goes.   

1968 is a time of change throughout the world, but especially in New York.  Veronica is a young model from England who is doing a photoshoot at the Frick Museum (formerly the Frick mansion).  The job is for Vogue magazine, so this is her big opportunity.  But, as she is verbally abused by an egotistical photographer, she starts to think that maybe being a model is not all it's cracked up to be.  But what can she do?  She doesn't have an education, and her family is counting on her to make good money. 

She meets a young Black man who is an intern at the museum, and sees the kind of challenges he has to face daily.  He has to constantly prove that he belongs there and isn't a threat. It's exhausting.  But she also sees how hard he is working towards he goals and becomes inspired.  There is a mystery that ties the two timelines together.  It really made the stories compelling.

Characters:

I loved Lillian.  She is someone who has had to survive using her wits, and her beauty.  Although she is quite intelligent, Lillian is still a very young person who isn't sophisticated enough to see she's in a dangerous social situation that could harm her.  Even in challenging situations, Lillian knows her worth and doesn't succumb to self-doubt.

Helen Frick is the single thirty-something daughter of  Henry Frick.  She is a really complicated person.  On the one hand I hated that she was so abusing to her staff, berating them and treating them worse than her pets.  On the other hand, she was also mentally messed up!  Henry liked to pit family members against each other, so there was constant bickering between Helen and her brother.  She also had to compete with her sister, who died at six years old.  Her parents idealized Martha (the dead sister) and Helen never felt she could make up for her parents' loss.  What a terrible thing to never feel the love of your parents.

Veronica, the young model in 1968, was much like Lillian.   Both were models and needed to find their own path in the world.  Both faced an ethical dilemma.  For Veronica, she was seriously thinking about stealing something valuable from the museum .  Lillian, flattered by the attentions of Helen's suitor,  was offered a large sum of money from her employer to help Helen find a man and get married. Will they do the right thing, or will money influence their moral choices?

Rating:  ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Release Date:  January 25, 2022

Author:  Fiona Davis

Publisher:  Dutton

Genre:  Historical Fiction.

Page Length:  368 pages

Source: NetGalley

Format:  E-Book

Recommendation:  If you love historical fiction, you will enjoy this book.  I certainly did!


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Friday, January 21, 2022

ARC Review: Violeta by Isabel Allende



Please Note:  I received an advance copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review.  This did not influence the opinions in my review in any way.

Synopsis (from Goodreads):

Violeta comes into the world on a stormy day in 1920, the first girl in a family of five boisterous sons. From the start, her life will be marked by extraordinary events, for the ripples of the Great War are still being felt, even as the Spanish flu arrives on the shores of her South American homeland almost at the moment of her birth.

Through her father's prescience, the family will come through that crisis unscathed, only to face a new one as the Great Depression transforms the genteel city life she has known. Her family loses all and is forced to retreat to a wild and beautiful but remote part of the country. There, she will come of age, and her first suitor will come calling. . . .

She tells her story in the form of a letter to someone she loves above all others, recounting devastating heartbreak and passionate affairs, times of both poverty and wealth, terrible loss and immense joy. Her life will be shaped by some of the most important events of history: the fight for women's rights, the rise and fall of tyrants, and, ultimately, not one but two pandemics.

Review:

I have read many books by author Isabel Allende. starting with The House of the Spirits (from 1982) to her most recent novel, Violeta.  She writes lovingly of the people of her native Peru, but not of it's historically corrupt government.  She has a way of making historical events come to life through the characters in her books.  While I liked the characters in Violeta, and appreciated the one-hundred year span of the story, I wasn't blown away by this book.  I think the reason for this was the format that she used for the story's structure. It made it hard to connect with any other character besides Violeta, herself.

What I Liked:

Historical Details:

Although Violeta never tells us which country in Latin America she is from, we can guess from the details of the book that it is the author's home country of Peru.  I really appreciated how she wove in the evolution of the country's political history along with the story.  All I knew about Peru before this book was what Allende wrote about in The House of The Spirits.  The brutal and corrupt military dictatorships of the late nineteen-sixties on through the nineteen-eighties, brought unimaginable heartache to civilians.  But this book puts this in a larger historical context.  

Characters:

Violeta begins life as a pampered child in a large, wealthy family, complete with an English nanny.  But very quickly her family's fortunes change and the real strengths of the characters begins to show.  

The nanny, Miss Taylor, shows resilience as she has to move on from being a nanny to making a life for herself in a new country.  Once she is free from the social constraints of being a proper member of a rich household, she realizes she is drawn to Teresa, a free-thinking woman who isn't afraid to live life on her own terms.  I loved these two characters and would love to read an entire book about them!

Violeta's brother, José Antonio, turns out to be a strong, dependable supporter of Violeta and her mother.  As their father lost their fortune and later dies, the family is thrown into debt.  But José Antonio does what he can to keep everyone together.  

Violeta, over the long course of her life, has a number of relationships with men, and it is hinted that she had affairs with women, as well.  Her longest, and most volatile relationship is with the dashing Julian.  He sweeps her off her feet, and their passion turns her life upside down.  But, Julian shows himself to be a brute.  And for all of Violeta's strength, she just can't resist him.  Their relationship is very complicated and I thought the author did a good job of exploring this. 

What I Didn't Like:

Structure:

The story tells Violeta's life in a series of letters to someone in the present day.  Much of the story centers around Violeta's love life.  I just didn't believe Violeta (a one-hundred year old woman) would write letters freely discussing intimate details of sexual encounters!  While we don't know until near the end of the book who she is writing to, this just didn't seem realistic.

The letter format also made the novel limited in scope to only Violeta's point of view.  With such a rich array of characters to explore, I wish the book would have been written in more of a narrative style, so we could dig deeper into some of the other characters.  I would have loved to read about Violeta's nanny and her affair with a woman.  This was in a time when people would never be openly gay, so I wanted to know more about the obstacles the couple faced.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Release Date:  January 25, 2022

Author:  Isabel Allende

Publisher: Ballantine Books

Genre:  Historical Fiction

Page Length:  336 Pages

Source:  NetGalley

Format:  E-book

Recommendation:  Although the format limited the story, this is another solid offering from Isabel Allende

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Wednesday, December 8, 2021

ARC Review: A History of Wild Places by Shea Ernshaw



Please Note:  I received an advance copy of this book from the publisher and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.  This did not influence the opinions in my review in any way.

Synopsis (from Goodreads):

Travis Wren has an unusual talent for locating missing people. Hired by families as a last resort, he requires only a single object to find the person who has vanished. When he takes on the case of Maggie St. James—a well-known author of dark, macabre children’s books—he’s led to a place many believed to be only a legend.

Called Pastoral, this reclusive community was founded in the 1970s by like-minded people searching for a simpler way of life. By all accounts, the commune shouldn’t exist anymore and soon after Travis stumbles upon it… he disappears. Just like Maggie St. James.

Years later, Theo, a lifelong member of Pastoral, discovers Travis’s abandoned truck beyond the border of the community. No one is allowed in or out, not when there’s a risk of bringing a disease—rot—into Pastoral. Unraveling the mystery of what happened reveals secrets that Theo, his wife, Calla, and her sister, Bee, keep from one another. Secrets that prove their perfect, isolated world isn’t as safe as they believed—and that darkness takes many forms.

Hauntingly beautiful, hypnotic, and bewitching, A History of Wild Places is a story about fairy tales, our fear of the dark, and losing yourself within the wilderness of your mind.

Review:

Shea Ernshaw is known for writing complex  characters in unusual settings.  I really enjoyed The Wicked Deep with it's supernatural elements, peopled with characters who had many dimensions.   I mostly enjoyed A History of Wild Places, the author's newest offering.  There were a few supernatural aspects to the story, but it wasn't strictly needed.  This is, at its heart, a novel about how people in power use fear to control others.  No matter how you feel about politics, it's obvious that leaders use this tactic effectively in real life.  This book just presents an extreme example.

What I Liked:

Characters:

I really liked the portrayal of Theo and Calla, and Calla's sister Bee.  These are three characters who love living in Pastoral, but keep secrets from each other that put strains on their relationships.

Although he loves Calla, Theo is restless and wishes he could leave Pastoral.  He starts has some risky behavior that could mean brutal punishment, if he is caught.  Plus he worries that Calla will think he doesn't want to be with her, anymore.

Calla loves the security of Pastoral, but also senses that something is wrong.  She knows that Theo is keeping secrets from her, and wonders:  can we ever really know our spouses?

Bee, Calla's sister, is blind, but freer than most of the people in the community,  People often forget she's there and they speak more freely around her. She then gives the leader, Levi, lots of juicy information that he uses as part of his control of the community.  Why would she do this?  Because Bee is in love with Levi.

Themes:

While the leader, Levi,  preaches that the community is based on creating a strong community, with everyone helping each other, he also peddles a healthy dose of fear to keep his flock in line.  He's even gone so far as to convince everyone that there is a terrible illness just beyond the perimeter of the settlement, and if you leave, even for a moment, you will catch it and die.  He has men monitoring the boundaries with guns.  But are they to keep people with the illness out of Pastoral, or to keep the residents in?

Levi uses fear of the outside, and community guilt, to control everyone.  How can you think of leaving Pastoral and put all your loved ones at risk?  When there is severe discipline for some who push back, Levi makes sure that the community feels that it's necessary, in order to keep everyone safe.  These are obvious parallels to issues we face today, with America's boarders, and even with the COVID pandemic.  

What I Didn't Like:

Use of the Supernatural:

One of the characters can touch an object and know things that happened to the people who touched it.  I've seen this device used well in books like The Diviners, by Libba Bray.  But in this story, the character's ability is rarely used.  It could just have easily been dropped from the story with no difference to the outcome of the plot.

Plot Twist:

While I will not give any spoilers away, I was not impressed with the plot twist in the last part of the book.  It didn't make sense to me.  At.  All.  There could have been many other explanations for the cult leader's hold on his flock.  But the reason given is ridiculous.  I was disappointed, because (again), this was an unnecessary stretch.  Given how strong the psychological manipulation was in the cult, several other, more realistic, reasons should have been given.  


Rating:  ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Release Date:  December 7th, 2021

Author:  Shea Ernshaw

Publisher:  Atria Books

Genre:  Mystery/Fantasy

Page Length: 368 Pages

Source:  NetGalley

Format:  E-Book

Recommendation:  Although some of the plot devices may try your reasonable suspension of disbelief, this is a solid thriller about fear among a isolated community.  

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Monday, November 29, 2021

ARC Review: Wish You Were Here by Jodi Picoult



Please Note:  I received an advance copy of this novel from the publisher and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.  This did not influence the opinions in my review in any way.

Synopsis (from Goodreads):

From the #1 New York Times bestselling author comes a deeply moving novel about the resilience of the human spirit in a moment of crisis.

Diana O’Toole is perfectly on track. She will be married by thirty, done having kids by thirty-five, and move out to the New York City suburbs, all while climbing the professional ladder in the cutthroat art auction world. She’s not engaged just yet, but she knows her boyfriend, Finn, a surgical resident, is about to propose on their romantic getaway to the Galápagos—days before her thirtieth birthday. Right on time.

But then a virus that felt worlds away has appeared in the city, and on the eve of their departure, Finn breaks the news: It’s all hands on deck at the hospital. He has to stay behind. You should still go, he assures her, since it would be a shame for all of their nonrefundable trip to go to waste. And so, reluctantly, she goes.

Almost immediately, Diana’s dream vacation goes awry. The whole island is now under quarantine, and she is stranded until the borders reopen. Completely isolated, she must venture beyond her comfort zone. Slowly, she carves out a connection with a local family when a teenager with a secret opens up to Diana, despite her father’s suspicion of outsiders.

Diana finds herself examining her relationships, her choices, and herself—and wondering if when she goes home, she too will have evolved into someone completely different.

Review:

Jodi Picoult has written many books, but this is only the second of her novels that I have picked up.  Wish You Were Here, her latest novel, is about how the COVID Pandamic has affected everyone.  Her story centers around a couple, Diana and her boyfriend, Finn as they are about to leave on a dream vacation to the Galápagos Islands.  But, Finn is a doctor and he is told he needs to stay behind to deal with a new illness, CVOID-19.  Diana goes without him.  Neither of them realize that this will change their relationship forever.  As Finn battles to save patients in the hospital, Diana is stuck in paradise.  One would think that Diana got the better deal.  However, would you really want to be far away while your loved ones could be getting sick and dying?  

This was a really entertaining book that addresses the pandemic, head-on.  With wonderful characters and a huge plot twist, I could not stop reading this book.

What I Liked:

Addressing COVID Pandemic:

This is the first novel that really utilizes the COVID pandemic as a major part of the plot.  And, even though this began less than two years ago, it's a good reminder of how wild things were at the beginning.  Suddenly thousands of people in New York and Boston come down with COVID-19, but doctors don't know how to treat it. Hospitals are overrun, people are scrambling to find PPE, and everything is shut down.

In the novel, Diana's boyfriend, Finn, is a surgeon in New York, and needs to spend all his time at the hospital.  Diana, not realizing how this will affect the entire planet, goes on their dream vacation to the Galápagos Islands without Finn.  She is soon stranded on the Island, with no way to get a hold of Finn, and no way to get back to New York.

But, aside from all the inconveniences of the pandemic, the book really focuses on what it was like in the hospital for Doctors, Nurses, and Patients.  One of the characters in the story gets COVID and following their journey, from the brink of death to the recovery, is a stark reminder in just how terrible this illness it.

Characters:

After dealing with a childhood where her mother was unreliable, Diana wants to have a safe, predictable future.  So she passes on opportunities that are creative but not steady.  And although she loves her doctor boyfriend, he really only offer predictability, not excitement.  With her experiences during lockdown in the Galápagos Islands, Diana starts to rethink her life.  

She also must come to terms with her relationship with her often absent mother, a world famous war photographer.  Now that her mother has dementia, Diana tries to look past her childhood hurt, and see her mom as an adult, who had to make difficult choices.

I really liked that Diana used her experiences during the pandemic to take stock of her life.

Finn, Diana's boyfriend, is a doctor on the front lines of the pandemic.  The author does not make Finn out to be some kind of hero, but rather a man experiencing trauma.  No one goes into a career in medicine with the thought that they will treat hundreds of patients who won't make it.   We see Finn's frustration, exhaustion, and (not always positive) coping skills.  While his actions are understandable, he is also selfish in believing he's the only one having a tough time.

Plot Twist:

I will not give the plot twist away.  But I will say there is something that happens in the novel that was completely unexpected, and changes the narrative of the book completely.  Parts of the event were a little hard to buy into.  But, it certainly made me gasp!

Themes:

This book is really about how the Pandemic has forced each of us to assess what their priorities should be.  Are we willing to work at a job that doesn't fulfill us?  Are we willing to settle for predictable (and safe) relationships, or do we want to take more risks?  But most of all, this book make the reader think about keeping connections with our loved ones.  We just don't know what tomorrow will bring.


Rating:  ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Release Date:  November 30th, 2021

Author:  Jodi Picoult

Publisher:  Ballantine Books

Genre:  Contemporary Fiction

Page Length:  336 Pages

Source:  NetGalley

Format:  E-Book

Recommendation:  This is a highly thought-provoking, and entertaining novel.

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Sunday, November 28, 2021

ARC Review: Still Life by Sarah Winman



Please Note:  I received an advance copy of this novel from the publisher and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.  This did not influence the opinions in my review in any way.

Synopsis (from Goodreads):

Tuscany, 1944: As Allied troops advance and bombs fall around deserted villages, a young English soldier, Ulysses Temper, finds himself in the wine cellar of a deserted villa. There, he has a chance encounter with Evelyn Skinner, a middle-aged art historian who has come to Italy to salvage paintings from the ruins and recall long-forgotten memories of her own youth. In each other, Ulysses and Evelyn find a kindred spirit amongst the rubble of war-torn Italy, and set off on a course of events that will shape Ulysses's life for the next four decades.

As Ulysses returns home to London, reimmersing himself in his crew at The Stoat and Parrot -- a motley mix of pub crawlers and eccentrics -- he carries his time in Italy with him. And when an unexpected inheritance brings him back to where it all began, Ulysses knows better than to tempt fate, and returns to the Tuscan hills.

With beautiful prose, extraordinary tenderness, and bursts of humor and light, Still Life is a sweeping portrait of unforgettable individuals who come together to make a family, and a richly drawn celebration of beauty and love in all its forms.

Review:

This is a novel that grows on you.  While the first chapter, taking place in Italy during WWII, is charming, the next few chapters have various characters who I didn't initially love.  But that's one of the joys of Still Life, by Sarah Winman.  As with a still life painting, the seemingly simple characters reveal hidden depths as the novel progresses.  This book covers a long time period, with characters growing up, aging, and (sometimes) dying. This gave me time to get to know the characters, and appreciate how they change and grow over the years.  

I also loved this book because of how several characters decide to move from their predictable hometowns to unknown Italy.  I loved this, as I have lived in three countries, and hope to add a few more to my list in the future.  The idea of searching for a new life is appealing, and shows how resilient people can be, even out of their comfort zone.

What I Liked:

Characters:

The story mostly follows Ulysses, a young British man who begins the story as a soldier in Italy during WWII.  Although the circumstances are horrific, with death all around, Ulysses sees the beauty of classic works of art and of kind people he meets along the way.  When he returns home to England, he tries to reunite with his wife, and find a way to live a more quiet existence.  Much of what happens in Italy is Ulysses trying to find a way to live that is true for himself.  

The character of Peg, Ulysses wife, was harder for me to like, as she seemed initially  very cruel to Ulysses.  Peg's character is complicated with parts of her I hated, and many parts of her I loved.  She is fiercely independent, yet yearns for a man to whisk her away and take care of her.  She loves her daughter (named Alys), but knows she will be terrible with the day to day care of her.  So she lets Ulysses raise Alys.  Again, you want to hate that decision, initially.  But the author shows that this is actually the right choice for these characters. 

I also loved Alys, Peg's daughter.  We see her grow from a precocious toddler, to a lonely child among all the grown ups, to a sulky teen, and finally into a strong young person.  I loved her story arc!  She loves creating art and music.  She also is attracted to females. Thinking of the time periods where the story takes place, this was challenging for Alys to find her place in the world.  Like Ulysses, she takes a while to find a life that works for her.

Side Characters & Found Family:

There are many characters we are introduced to at the pub where Ulysses works and they all have endearing personalities.  There's the pub owner, Col, who's fiercely protecting of his developmentally disabled daughter, Ginny.  Cress, an older patron of the pub, always seems to have great advice.  And Pete, a piano player at the pub, is full of surprises.

All of these characters make up a found family for Ulysses, and Alys.  Like a family, there are loud, opinionated members, people who get themselves into trouble. But, these people look out for one another and would (literally) be the ones to call to bury a body, if the occasion ever arrives.

Impactful meetings: 

Ulysses has one of those personalities that people are drawn to.  As a soldier, Ulysses meets Evelyn, an older fellow British woman, who briefly shows him the importance of art.  He shows her the beauty of life, even in times of terror.  This makes quite an impression on both of the characters.  Over the course of the novel, they try many times to reconnect, often just missing each other turning a street corner!

Story:

The story starts during WWII and ends in 1979!  It covers Ulysses quest (as in the Odyssey) to find a place to call home.  But what really makes a home?  Is it the geographic area, or the people?  There a little bit of both in this story.  Ulysses really enjoys Italy.  Over time, the people in his section of Florence, are as dear to him as the ones he grew up with back in England.  But he also maintains his ties to his oldest British friends.  I loved how he was able to take chances, in order to live a more interesting, fulfilling life.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Release Date:  November 2nd, 2021

Author:  Sarah Winman

Publisher:  G.P. Putman's Sons

Genre:  Historical Fiction

Page Length:  464 Pages

Source:  NetGalley

Format:  E-Book

Recommendation:  This book grew on me.  Once you get to know the characters, you will love the little expat community they create.  A wonderful Historical Fiction novel.

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Friday, November 26, 2021

Book Review: The Book of Laughter and Forgetting by Milan Kundera


 

Synopsis (from Goodreads):

Rich in its stories, characters, and imaginative range, The Book of Laughter and Forgetting is the novel that brought Milan Kundera his first big international success in the late 1970's. Like all his work, it is valuable for far more than just its historical implications. In seven wonderfully integrated parts, different aspects of human existence are magnified and reduced, reordered and emphasized, newly examined, analyzed and experienced.

Review:

The Book of Laughter and Forgetting, by Milan Kundera was on my list of "classic" book I have wanted to read.  Maybe I am not sophisticated enough to "get" him, but his narrow view of women, and sexual relationships made this challenging for me to read. This is a shame because there were many profound insights and passages.  But, some parts of the novel were so repugnant, I had to lower my rating from five to three stars.

What I Liked:

Format:

The book is presented as a series of short stories that eventually tie together.  Some of the stories are more like fantasy, with strange things happening to the characters.  In other stories, the author uses the names of famous poets in place of the actual character names.  I loved his reasoning.  Kundera wrote this book when he was still an exile in France, and didn't want to use actual names of people he knows.  Therefore, he says, it's his story, and he can name the characters anything he likes!

Themes of Forgetting:

I really thought the author's point that the various Czech governments change things (street names, for example),  so that its citizens will forget the past (and accept the future) really resonated with me.  The erasure of names, languages, and cultural traditions is how a people are subjugated, as is the case with indigenous peoples throughout the world.  

Kundera also uses forgetting to discuss his relationship with his father at the end of his life.  Although he never explicitly says this, it appears that Kundera's father had dementia.  As he nears the end of his life, he gradually loses the ability to speak.  So, by forgetting, Kundera shows that someone can lose the ability to communicate.  This loss of expression is a loss of power.

What I Didn't Like:

Themes of Laughter:

Kundera's other major theme is that laughter is evil.  He seems to equate laughter in the bedroom as an emasculation of men.  He has several situations where men and women laugh in sexual situations.  When this happens, it kills the moment (for the man) and therefore it's always a negative.  This is a very narrow view of sex between two people.  

Other stories have people laughing at inappropriate times, such as at a funeral. I think he sees laughter as something humiliating, instead of an acknowledgement of the absurdity of life. 

Sexual Abuse Excused:

One of the recurring themes in this book is that rape is an essential part of eroticism for men.  Sadly, this may be true for some men.  But I refuse to believe that this is just part of the male DNA.  Rape, and rape culture, is learned.  Kundera's insistence that men are just like this excuses mens's behavior.  He is basically saying that men can't help it.  

He also has a story where a woman is sexually abusing children.  He says that the children are initiating the contact, and makes no attempt to place blame on the woman.  Again, it is excusing her behavior.  I almost put the book down, at that point, but it was close to the end of the book, and I felt that I needed to finish it in order to really judge it.

After I finished the novel, I did some research on the author. It's really no surprise that he vocally defended the notorious Roman Polanski who raped a thirteen year-old child back in the 1970's.  I think he truly feels that men forcing themselves on women (and children) is natural and just how things are.  This book was written in the 1970's.  I really wonder if his thoughts on this has evolved since then.

Triggers for Sexual Assault and Abuse

Rating:  ⭐⭐⭐

Release Date: 1979

Author:  Milan Kundera

Publisher:  Harper Perennial Modern Classics

Page Length:  313 Pages

Source:  Public Library

Format:  Paperback Book

Recommendation:  This book had many parts that were thought-provoking.  But I had a hard time with the viewpoint that sexual behavior, of any type, is natural and doesn't have consequences.

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Monday, November 22, 2021

Audio ARC Review: Aurora's End by Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff



Please Note:  I received an advance copy of this audiobook from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.  This did not influence the opinions in my review in any way.

Synopsis (from Goodreads):

The squad you love is out of time. Prepare for the thrilling finale in the epic, best-selling Aurora Cycle series about a band of unlikely heroes who just might be the galaxy's last hope for survival.

Is this the end?

What happens when you ask a bunch of losers, discipline cases, and misfits to save the galaxy from an ancient evil? The ancient evil wins, of course.
Wait. . . . Not. So. Fast.
When we last saw Squad 312, they working together seamlessly (aka, freaking out) as an intergalactic battle raged and an ancient superweapon threatened to obliterate Earth. Everything went horribly wrong, naturally.
But as it turns out, not all endings are endings, and the te4am has one last chance to rewrite thirs. Maybe two. It's complicated.
Cue Zila, Fin, and Scarlett (and MAGELLAN!): making friends, making enemies, and making history? Sure, no problem
Cue Tyler, Kal, and Auri: uniting with two of the galaxy’s most hated villains? Um, okay. That, too.
Actually saving the galaxy, though?
Now that will take a miracle.

Review:

The end of a book series comes with mixed feelings.  We want to finally have all the character's problems resolved, but we're also sorry to see them go.  I have really enjoyed the Aurora Chronicles, but Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff.  It has been a really fun series filled with diverse characters and lots of humor.  Listening to the audiobooks as been (mostly) delightful, as the voice actors who narrate are wonderfully expressive.  As I listened to the final book in the series, Aurora's End, I again loved the humor, the characters, and how it is wrapped up.  I was a little mixed about some of the sound quality of the audiobook.  Also, although this is an action series, the battle scenes go on for far too long.  This actually slowed the book down.  But, even with these caveats, I really enjoyed this book and found it to be a worthy finale to the series.

What I Liked:

Characters:

With six main characters, it would seem difficult to give each of them their due.  The book focused mostly on Tyler, Scarlett, Zila, and Fin.  I liked this because the other books were more centered on Aurora and Cal.  We learned so much more about how Zila thinks and why she is so reserved, in particular.  Zila is one of my favorite characters, and it was great to see her come out of her shell.  And there are major developments int the relationship between Scarlett and Fin!  Tyler shows a side of himself that is quite unexpected.  But as the story continues, one can see how this came to be.

Book Series Recap:

I so appreciate that then beginning of the book has a recap of what happened in the two previous books!  When you have book series, I often find that I need to re-read the previous books so I won't be lost when I read the next one.  But, the authors bring the reader up to date on what happened so you can jump into the action without thinking, "who was that person again", or "Why are they at that place"?  It makes the experience so much better.  I wish more authors would do this.

Story:

The story takes place over multiple timelines.  I think the authors did a wonderful job of keeping everything logical, so it was easy to follow.  Without giving too much away, the story shows some of the characters at different ages, and it's fun to see how they changed as they got older.

What I Was Mixed About:

Audiobook Quality:

While I enjoyed the overall quality of the audio narration, for some reason one of the voice actors sounded like they recorded their lines in a closet.  When Steve West (who plays Cal) spoke there were strange echos that were not part of the story.  Just the quality of the sounds made it clear to me that he recorded his part separately from the other actors.  Hearing Cal was something I was really look forward to.  But with the sound quality so off, it was all I could focus on.

What I Didn't Like:

Story: & Pacing:

The story meandered around with various battles, again and again and again.  Part of that was built into the structure of the book.  But beyond that, there were too many epic "Final" battles.  Some editing would have given the book a faster pace, which is what this novel needed. 


Rating:  ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Release Date:  November 9th, 2021

Authors:  Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff

Genre:  YA Science Fiction

Audiobook Publisher:  Listening Library

Audiobook Narrators:  Kim Mai Guest, Jonathan McClain, Lincoln Hoppe, Donnabella Mortel, Jonathan Todd Ross,  Erin Spencer, Steve West

Audiobook Length:  15 hours, 6 Minutes

Print Publisher:  Knopf Books for Young Readers

Book Length:  512 Pages

Source:  Penguin Audio

Format:  Audiobook

Recommendation:  Even though the novel meandered around, there was still the signature humor and humanity in each character.  A worthy end to the sereis.

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