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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, June 27, 2022

ARC Review: This Vicious Grace by Emily Thiede

 


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):

Three weddings. Three funerals. Alessa’s gift from the gods is supposed to magnify a partner’s magic, not kill every suitor she touches.

Now, with only weeks left until a hungry swarm of demons devours everything on her island home, Alessa is running out of time to find a partner and stop the invasion. When a powerful priest convinces the faithful that killing Alessa is the island’s only hope, her own soldiers try to assassinate her.

Desperate to survive, Alessa hires Dante, a cynical outcast marked as a killer, to become her personal bodyguard. But as rebellion explodes outside the gates, Dante’s dark secrets may be the biggest betrayal. He holds the key to her survival and her heart, but is he the one person who can help her master her gift or destroy her once and for all?

Emily Thiede's exciting fantasy debut, This Vicious Grace, will keep readers turning the pages until the devastating conclusion and leave them primed for more!
 

Review:

When I first read the description of This Vicious Grace, by Emily Thiede, I thought,"Oh no, not another Chosen One saga".  But the beauty of this YA Fantasy novel is that there is so much more going on in it.  For one thing, the main character is one of several Chosen Ones.  Alessa may be the chosen savior of her island, but she is starting to think a mistake has been made.  She is desperately lonely, keeps killing the people she gets partnered with, and others are actively trying to assassinate her.  But, even with a lethal touch, she does finds ways to connect with others.

This story had wonderful world-building with a rich society (somewhat modeled after Italian culture), scary monsters, and an impending apocalypse.  There is also a fun, romance that brings two traumatizes characters together.  With themes of friendship and teamwork, this was an exciting beginning to a new YA fantasy series.  

What I liked:

World-Building:

This story is set in a world where the apocalypse happens on a regular basis.  Every five years, demons descend on the world, and it's up to the Finestra and her partner, the Fonte to destroy them.  Each Island has their own Finestra (basically, there are several "chosen " ones at the same time).  Once a Finestra saves her Island, she can retire, and perhaps train another Finestra some time in the future.  It seems pretty simple.  But, there are all kinds of rules and rituals that Alessa must follow in order to become the savior.

I loved all of the rituals, social customs, and class structures that the author created to make this world come to life.  She also created creatures that are the stuff of nightmares to really give the heroine a strong incentive to keep going.  

Characters:

Alessa is a strong, yet vulnerable heroine.  She has been deliberately isolated from her family in order to hone her gifts.  Of course, they also do this to protect everyone, as one touch from the Finestra can kill.  Since she has accidentally killed her three previous Fontes, she is petrified of failing her country.  

But, nevertheless, Alessa persists.  With people losing faith in her (and others trying to kill her), she could easily give up, but she does not.  She knows that, somehow, she needs to find a new way to become the savior she is meant to be.

Dante is similar to Alessa.  He is an outcast who also has the gift of strength. But with many childhood traumas, he doesn't think he is worth much.  Alessa hires him as her bodyguard, and he begins to see that he is more than what others tell him he is.  I found his story full of hope as he has to reconcile his past with his present.  

Alessa and Dante have a wonderful chemistry, and I loved how they helped each other to reach their full potential.

Friendships & Teamwork:

Much like the messages of friendship that are found in Harry Potter, and Buffy The Vampire Slayer, The Vicious Grace stresses the power of connecting with people and nurturing friendships in order to grow stronger.  I can't say too much more without spoilers, but I love that message.  

Trigger Warning for child abuse.

Rating:  ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Release Date:  June 28th, 2022

Author:  Emily Thiede

Publisher:  Wednesday Books

Genre:  YA Fantasy

Page Length:  448 Pages

Source:  NetGalley

Format: E-Book

Recommendation:  With wonderful world-building and themes of teamwork and friendship, this is a promising start to this series.  If you enjoy fantasy, you will love this book.

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Tuesday, June 21, 2022

ARC Review: The Last Dress From Paris by Jade Beer


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):

The secret is hidden within a collection of Dior dresses...

London, 2017. There's no one Lucille adores more than her grandmother. So when her beloved Granny Sylvie asks for Lucille's assistance with a small matter, she's happy to help. The next thing she knows, Lucille is on a train to Paris, tasked with retrieving a priceless Dior dress. But not everything is as it seems, and what Lucille finds in a small Parisian apartment will have her scouring the city for answers to a question that could change her entire life.

Paris, 1952. Postwar France is full of glamour and privilege, and Alice Ainsley is in the middle of it all. As the wife to the British ambassador to France, Alice's job is to see and be seen--even if that wasn't quite what she signed up for. Her husband showers her with jewels, banquets, and couture Dior dresses, but his affection has become distressingly elusive. As the strain on her marriage grows, Alice's only comfort is her bond with her trusted lady's maid, Marianne. But when a new face appears in her drawing room, Alice finds herself yearning to follow her heart...no matter the consequences.

The City of Light comes alive in this lush, evocative tale that explores the ties that bind us together, the truths we hold that make us who we are, and the true meaning of what makes someone family.

Review:

Historical fiction is my favorite genre.  I love all the details of other eras, particularly of the clothes.  That's why I was so keen to read The Last Dress From Paris, by Jade Beer.  The story follows the wife of a British ambassador in Paris in the early 1950's.  I loved all the descriptions of that world, with the details of how each diplomatic event was planned, and the high fashion that needed to accompany it.  The story of the crumbling marriage of the ambassador and his wife, and the young man who gets in the middle of it was not very compelling.  Considering the young wife's life leading to that point it didn't make a lot of sense for her to risk everything.  With an ending that was surprisingly realistic, and not romantic in the least, I was not satisfied with the book.  This would make for a solid library read, but I wouldn't recommend buying it.

What I Liked: 

Setting/Details:

I'll never know what it's like to live in high society, or be a young bride in the 1950's, but the author's depiction of these things puts me in the center of it.  Living in Paris as the wife of an ambassador was full of social obligations to plan beautiful parties and receptions, and dress in the latest fashion.  I was particularly struck by how Alice had to weigh all her choices, right down to her choice in flowers, against any political implications.  She couldn't be seen as only favoring British things, or she would be insulting her French hosts.  But she also needed to make sure British influences were represented, as she and her husband were an extension of England.  It was a tightrope of balancing two opposing forces.

Fashion:

Alice reveled in her role as an ambassador's wife, and really loved that she had access to couture apparel by designers such as Dior.  As her husband was an ambassador, no expense was spared to dress Alice in the most exquisite gowns.  I loved the descriptions of the clothes, and how they were made.  These works of art were made to actually be worn, so the construction of each piece had many features to aid in the comfort of the woman who wore it.  We also get a glimpse behind the scene as Alice, and later Lucille, learn about the mannequins (the women who modeled the clothing).  These were hard working women who not only modeled the clothes in the showroom, they also had to endure countless hours standing stock-still as the designer draped various fabrics on them to find the perfect materials for each design.

Story:

I really enjoyed the more modern story of Lucille as she tries to solve the mystery of the eight dresses that her grandmother owned.  She travels to Paris, thinking that she only is there to retrieve one dress, but then finds that there are actually eight dresses, two of which are missing.  How could Lucille's grandmother own any Dior dresses, let alone eight?  And why can't the grandmother just tell her the story?  While I felt that these were legitimate questions, I loved the scavenger hunt this put the character on.  It was fun to unravel the mystery.  And I loved the people she met along the way.

What I Was Mixed About:

Story:

While I enjoyed Lucille's story, I was less impressed with Alice's tale.  And that's a problem, as it is the basis for Lucille looking for the dresses in the first place.  I am not going to go into too much detail, as I hate spoilers.  But, much of the story didn't make sense to me.  Given that Alice was much younger than her husband (she was 25, while he was in his 40's), I can understand that she was restless.  But she seems totally stunned that her husband is all business when he becomes ambassador.  I felt that the author gave him a personality change in order to justify that Alice was unhappy.  But she was certainly happy to wear Dior every chance she got!  The risks Alice took to find happiness seemed reckless.  I don't think a woman in such a high profile social position would have jeopardized her entire world for a budding romance.

Ending:

Again, I do not want to spoil anything.  But I thought the ending was really strange.  It was surprisingly realistic, given how romantic the novel wanted to be.  I really wanted the ending to be a lot more hopeful.  What I did enjoy was the resolution of Lucilles story, and that the mystery of the dresses was solved.  


Rating: ⭐⭐⭐

Release Date: June 16th, 2022

Author:  Jade Beer

Publisher:  Berkley Books

Genre:  Historical Fiction

Page Length:  384 pages

Source:  NetGalley

Format: E-Book

Recommendation:  If you love the world of Paris fashion, you may be able to get past some of the flaws in the story.  This would be a library read for me.

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Saturday, June 4, 2022

ARC Review: Nora Goes Off Script by Annabel Monaghan


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):

Nora's life is about to get a rewrite...

Nora Hamilton knows the formula for love better than anyone. As a romance channel screenwriter, it's her job. But when her too-good-to work husband leaves her and their two kids, Nora turns her marriage's collapse into cash and writes the best script of her life. No one is more surprised than her when it's picked up for the big screen and set to film on location at her 100-year-old-home. When former Sexiest Man Alive, Leo Vance, is cast as her ne'er do well husband Nora's life will never be the same.

The morning after shooting wraps and the crew leaves, Nora finds Leo on her porch with a half-empty bottle of tequila and a proposition. He'll pay a thousand dollars a day to stay for a week. The extra seven grand would give Nora breathing room, but it's the need in his eyes that makes her say yes. Seven days: it's the blink of an eye or an eternity depending on how you look at it. Enough time to fall in love. Enough time to break your heart.

Filled with warmth, wit, and wisdom, Nora Goes Off Script is the best kind of love story--the real kind where love is complicated by work, kids, and the emotional baggage that comes with life. For Nora and Leo, this kind of love is bigger than the big screen.

Review:

Lately, I've read several romance novels.  I found Book Lovers, by Emily Henry, to be unrealistic with the characters having too much angst (I swear, in Book Lovers, every  decision (big or small) the main character made was fraught with haunting memories of the past.  It was just too much ).  And although I enjoyed The Treehouse on Dog River Road, the characters were annoyingly perfect.  I think I found the right balance of angst, fun, and romance with Nora Goes Off Script, by Annabel Monaghan.   There's the angst of Nora's divorce and it's effect on her kids.  There's the fun of Nora being a screenwriter and having a film crew at her home.  And the romance is swoon-worthy.  Could the hottest actor in Hollywood actually want to hang out with Nora in her very normal small town?  Is he interested in her, or just wants a break from his glamorous life?  

This was a really fun book to read.  I liked that everyone had their issues (even Nora's kids), but that they were all just people trying to get on with life.  There were many big moments, such as some of the characters winning awards, and small moments, like the kids participating in school plays and sports, that made this book both realistic, and super entertaining.  This would be a great summer read.

What I liked:

Settings: 

I enjoyed Nora's small town where everyone knows everyone else's business.  People know all about Nora's divorce from her husband Ben.  He was a dreamer who belittled Nora's writing talent, and wouldn't hold down a job.  And there was a mix of people who were supportive, pitying, and judgemental.  Nora is happy here with her kids, and the stunning sunrises that calm her each morning.

Other moments in the book take place in Hollywood.  I appreciated that this wasn't filled with too many cliches about fake people.  In fact, I would say that this was the opposite of that.  Nora meets some really big movie stars, and gets attention.  But she doesn't feel out of place.  She knows that this isn't something she can get used to, and just enjoys it for what it is.

Characters:

I really liked Nora and her family.  Nora felt like a whole person to me.  Yes, she falls in love with a movie star, and has her doubts about if this could turn into a long-term relationship.  But she never doubts her self-worth.  She had an ex-husband who constantly tried to undermine her, calling her writing cheesy. But, as she rightly points out, her writing has given her the ability to take care of herself and her kids. 

Since we're seeing Leo through Nora's lens, it's less clear what kind of person he is.  Is he a down-to-earth guy, or a narcissistic sociopath?   Their romance is sweet and doesn't seem too Insta-lovey to be real.  And he does seem to genuinely care about Nora and her kids.

Story:

This is about as formulaic as it gets, girl gets boy, girl loses boy girl gets him back.  But there's a reason that there are these roadmaps.  The stories work!  I liked that Nora and Leo actually have good conversations with each other as they fall in love.  And I really liked that Nora figures out a path forward when she loses him.  Their getting back together is a bit of a fantasy, but it was also really entertaining.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐  

Release Date:  June 7, 2022

Author:  Annabel Monaghan

Publisher:  G.P. Putnam's Sons

Genre:  Contemporary Romance

Page Length:  272 Pages

Source:  NetGalley

Format:  E-Book

Recommendation:  A fun, romantic summer book. You will love Nora and Leo!


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Monday, May 30, 2022

ARC Review: Yerba Buena by Nina LaCour


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):

When Sara Foster runs away from home at sixteen, she leaves behind not only the losses that have shattered her world but the girl she once was, capable of trust and intimacy. Years later, in Los Angeles, she is a sought-after bartender, renowned as much for her brilliant cocktails as for the mystery that clings to her. Across the city, Emilie Dubois is in a holding pattern. In her seventh year and fifth major as an undergraduate, she yearns for the beauty and community her Creole grandparents cultivated but is unable to commit. On a whim, she takes a job arranging flowers at the glamorous restaurant Yerba Buena and embarks on an affair with the married owner.

When Sara catches sight of Emilie one morning at Yerba Buena, their connection is immediate. But the damage both women carry, and the choices they have made, pulls them apart again and again. When Sara's old life catches up to her, upending everything she thought she wanted just as Emilie has finally gained her own sense of purpose, they must decide if their love is more powerful than their pasts.

At once exquisite and expansive, astonishing in its humanity and heart, Yerba Buena is a love story for our time and a propulsive journey through the lives of two women finding their way in the world.
 

Review:

I am a great fan of author Nina LaCour, having read several of her novels for young adults.  Her books have a dreamlike quality as they focus mainly on young, gay teens.  The fact that they are gay is secondary to other issues that they might have, such as depression, and wavering self-confidence.  But all of them are about how the characters move from children to adults.  Although her newest book, Yerba Buena, is a novel for (and about) adults, many of the same themes continue.  

I was initially put off by the beginning of the novel due to the harsh reality of one of the characters.  I found it all rather depressing to read.  However, I stuck with it.  This is a book about getting past family baggage.  The characters have learned coping mechanisms that may have helped them as kids, but are doing them no favors as adults.  So what was at first very depressing, comes out hopeful. I became very invested in the characters of Sara and Emilie, and rooted for them to find happiness.  This is a wonderful book.  

Trigger Warning:

Be aware of some really disturbing scenes of sexual exploitation at the beginning of the story. 


What I Liked:

Characters:

Both Sara and Emilie have significant challenges in their lives.  Sara comes from a family where her father is involved in something illegal.  Coming from a small town in Northern California, Sara falls apart when someone important to her dies.  She can't cope, so runs away.  Solo life is filled with promise, but also hard choices.  She is constantly running from her past so she never puts down roots.

Emilie is part of a family where her sister's problems take center stage.  Because of this, she is a people pleaser.  She feels like if she doesn't make constant compromises, the people she loves tend to leave.  She needs to figure out how to get past this, or she will always be disappointed.  No one ever really can make her happy but herself.

Romance:

Sara and Emilie meet and are instantly attracted to each other.  But their timing is always lousy.  Either Sara or Emilie have family problems to face, or they are dating other people.  Their romance happens in starts and stops.  There are a lot of miscommunications that carry over months.  When they see each other again, they need to start fresh.  But they both know that there is a connection there that they need to explore.

Story:

I loved seeing Sara and Emilie grow as people over the course of the story.  Sara's journey is accepting the past and realizing that she can't save other people.  She is so afraid of going back home, that she misses out on being a part of her brother's life.  She also needs to take a step back and understand how much she has been able to accomplish in her life. 

Emilie can't seem to finish what she starts.  A perpetual student, she keeps changing majors.  By not making a commitment, she doesn't have to take responsibility for her choices.  The same issues occur when she starts dating a married man.  Even though it's exciting, her affair is just another way to hold off on making any real connections with people who she might have a future with. 

I liked how both Sara and Emilie had to confront their choices (and non-choices), in order for them to let go of their issues.

What I Was Mixed About:

I found the beginning of the Sara's story very confusing and creepy.  It was unclear to me why Sara's father acted the way he did (which could be completely my fault as a reader).  And I thought it was kind of out of left field when Sara gets abused by one of her father's friends.  Later in the story, everything makes a lot more sense, and perhaps that was deliberate on the author's part.   But it creeped me out that Sara could be so easily be put in a situation where she could be sex trafficked.   I suppose the author was also making a deliberate choice to show how vulnerable young people are.


Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Release Date: May 31, 2022

Author:  Nina LaCour

Publisher:  Flatiron Books

Genre:  Adult Contemporary

Page Length:  304 Pages

Source: NetGalley

Format:  E-Book

Recommendation:  Despite its harsh beginning, this is a book of hope and of navigating adulthood.  I loved it and highly recommend it.

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Thursday, May 26, 2022

Audio ARC Review: All My Rage by Sabaa Tahir



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

If you like audiobooks, Libro.fm is a great way to listen to audiobooks and support independent bookstores at the same time!  Why give more money to billionaires to fly into space when you can help keep independent bookstores afloat, instead!  When you go to Libro.fm, you can choose which bookstore you want to support, and a portion of the sales goes to that bookstore.  

Here is my unique friend code:

https://libro.fm/referral?rf_code=lfm75477

*Just so you know:  If you do wind up getting a membership, I will get a free book credit.


Lahore, Pakistan. Then.
Misbah is a dreamer and storyteller, newly married to Toufiq in an arranged match. After their young life is shaken by tragedy, they come to the United States and open the Cloud’s Rest Inn Motel, hoping for a new start.

Juniper, California. Now.
Salahudin and Noor are more than best friends; they are family. Growing up as outcasts in the small desert town of Juniper, California, they understand each other the way no one else does. Until The Fight, which destroys their bond with the swift fury of a star exploding.

Now, Sal scrambles to run the family motel as his mother Misbah’s health fails and his grieving father loses himself to alcoholism. Noor, meanwhile, walks a harrowing tightrope: working at her wrathful uncle’s liquor store while hiding the fact that she’s applying to college so she can escape him—and Juniper—forever.

When Sal’s attempts to save the motel spiral out of control, he and Noor must ask themselves what friendship is worth—and what it takes to defeat the monsters in their pasts and the ones in their midst.

From one of today’s most cherished and bestselling young adult authors comes a breathtaking novel of young love, old regrets, and forgiveness—one that’s both tragic and poignant in its tender ferocity.

Review:  

Sabaa Tahir has got to be one of my favorite authors, having written the wonderful fantasy series, An Ember in the Ashes.  Even with magic, and fantasy settings like the afterlife, the author always made characters who were full of relatable emotions of longing, love, anger, and heartache.  When the series was over, I wondered what Tahir could possibly write next.

Well the wait is over.  And Sabaa Tahir goes in a completely different direction by creating a world so realistic, it's sometimes hard to want to delve into it.  But, All My Rage, her latest novel, has many of the same traits as her fantasy series, with characters full of the emotion.  This book was a tough read, with domestic violence, child abuse, rape and many other horrible things.  What makes it worth reading, though, is the hope we have for the characters, Sal and Noor, do have a better life.  With wonderful performances by the narrators, this was a beautiful book.  Expect to cry!

What I Liked:

Characters:

Sal's parents run a motel in the tiny, California desert town of Juniper, and it has seen better days.  This is mostly because Sal mother is very sick, and his father copes by being constantly drunk.  Even though Sal is a high school student, he does everything he can to help out at the motel.  But his anger at his father seeps into other parts of his life.  

Noor is also in high school, having come to the U.S. when she was a small child.  She was the lone survivor of a deadly earthquake in Pakistan.  Her uncle brought her back to America and put his dreams on hold to care for Noor.  Others might consider her fortunate.  But her uncle is a bitter, cruel man who constantly reminds her she should feel grateful for him rescuing her.  Sal and Noor used to be best friends until about a year ago when Noor confessed that she was in love with him, and he didn't return her feelings (awkard!).

Even though both of these young people have difficult lives, there are some caring adults who do try to be there for them.  I really liked that Sal's mom helped Noor understand her Muslim culture.  And Sal had other adults ready to listen when he could open up, including the young leader at the local Mosque.

Story:

Both Sal and Noor go though a lot in this book.  The author always is joking on social media that she loves to put her characters through Hell.  Well, she certainly did that. If you had a safe, stable childhood, it might seem unrealistic for these characters to have so many terrible things happen to them.  But people do have these types of childhoods, dealing with unstable family situations, racism, and hopelessness.  The shining light at the end of the tunnel is that both Sal and Noor do want to change their circumstances.  But, even with all the best of intentions, Sal and Noor are still just kids.  They make some terrible choices that just compound their problems.

Narration:

The story is structured with the alternating points of view of Sal and Noor.  And the narrators do a fantastic job with both the angst and the joy of being teenagers.  For most of the story, Sal is full of rage and Noor is rather beaten down by life.  But when some good things happen to them, they finally get to express their character's astonishment at the beauty in life, as well.  There is a brief section when the point of view is seen through Sal's mother which is really lovely.

Trigger Warnings for Domestic Violence, Child Abuse, Rape, and anything else you can think of.  This is a very heavy read!


Rating:  ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Release Date:  March 1, 2022

Author:  Sabaa Tahir

Genre:  YA Contemporary Fiction

Audio Publisher:  Penguin Random House Audio

Narrators:  Deepti Gupta, Kamran R. Khan, & Kausar Mohammad

Audio Length: 10 Hours, 24 Minutes

Print Publisher:  Razorbill

Print Length:  384 Pages

Source: Libro.fm

Format:  Audiobook

Recommendation:  This is a very moving, but hard to read book.  I loved the characters, and hating when bad things happened to them.  Ultimately, this was a book about survival and had a hopeful ending.  I highly recommend it.

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Sunday, May 22, 2022

ARC Review: Our Last Days in Barcelona by Chanel Cleeton


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):

When Isabel Perez travels to Barcelona to save her sister Beatriz, she discovers a shocking family secret in New York Times bestselling author Chanel Cleeton’s new novel.

Barcelona, 1964. Exiled from Cuba after the revolution, Isabel Perez has learned to guard her heart and protect her family at all costs. After Isabel’s sister Beatriz disappears in Barcelona, Isabel goes to Spain in search of her. Joining forces with an unlikely ally thrusts Isabel into her sister’s dangerous world of espionage, but it’s an unearthed piece of family history that transforms Isabel’s life.

Barcelona, 1936. Alicia Perez arrives in Barcelona after a difficult voyage from Cuba, her marriage in jeopardy and her young daughter Isabel in tow. Violence brews in Spain, the country on the brink of civil war, the rise of fascism threatening the world. When Cubans journey to Spain to join the International Brigades, Alicia’s past comes back to haunt her as she is unexpectedly reunited with the man who once held her heart.

Alicia and Isabel’s lives intertwine, and the past and present collide, as a mother and daughter are forced to choose between their family’s expectations and following their hearts.

Review:

Whenever I think of my family history, I try to remember that everyone of the people who came before me had hopes, dreams, loves, or heartaches, just as people today do.  And the larger events of those times likely affected each of their lives in some way.  Whether it was from war, natural disaster, or a world-wide pandemic, one can't help but be shaped by the larger events of the world.

That is why I love reading historical fiction, as it brings the events of the past to life through the stories of everyday people.  Author Chanel Cleeton has created a family saga centering on the women of the fictional Perez family that spans the centuries from Spain to Cuba to the United States.  Her books are about the compromises women are willing to make, and what happens when they decide to break free of the expectations of others.  

Her latest book, Our Last Days in Barcelona, has two storylines.  In the nineteen thirties, Alicia (the prim mother of the Perez sisters in later books) has left her husband and flees to her family in Spain to decide what to do next.   There is fierce fighting between Franco's nationalists and the republicans who want more freedom.  In the nineteen sixties, it's Alicia's daughter, Isabel, who is in Spain looking for her sister Beatriz (and also trying to figure out what to do with her own marriage).  

I loved the parallel storylines, and the themes of family obligations versus what the heart actually wants.  As always, the author does a wonderful job of layering personal stories with historical events.  This was also a very romantic book.  I appreciated that the romance was realistic, and not insta-love.   And there are some truly harrowing historical events that add much tension to the novel.  This was a page-turner!  Although the author has now written five novels based on these fascinating women, I hope that she will continue to find more stories to tell us about this family.  I really enjoyed this book and highly recommend it.

What I Liked:

Settings:

Spain and Cuba in the nineteen thirties were both exciting places to visit, and extremely dangerous places if you didn't agree with the leaders of those places!  At the time of this story, Spain would soon be led by the fascist Francisco Franco, and Cuba would have it's own dictator, Fulgencio Batista.  There were bombings, protests, and people disappearing if they said the wrong thing.  

In the nineteen sixties the story is set in Palm Beach, Florida, amid the emerging Cuban immigrants population, and in Spain (where Franco is still in power).  In Palm Beach, the Perez family is working hard to match the prestige and the lifestyle they once had in Cuba.  In Spain, there is still an aura of danger and people are on their guard.  Beatriz works at an embassy (and also possibly for the CIA) where she finds all sorts of diplomatic troubles. 

I also appreciated that the author took the time to show how social standards dictated the lives of women in both eras.  Avoid scandal was of the upmost importance.  And women were (as always) held to a higher standard than men in regards to love and relationships.  Since women were much more dependent on men, it is important for the author to emphasize this.  If women are involved in scandals that will impact their families, they will lose their support, and protection.  And in those times, that means a life-sentence of poverty.

Characters:

What struck me about all of the women in this novel is that they all are similar, even though the stories are decades apart.  Alicia and Isabel find their marriages to be untenable.  Rosa and Beatriz each realize they let the love of their life go.  All of them feel the burdens of living up to the expectations of either their families or society.  And none of them realize that they are not alone in their struggles.  I think we can all relate to that! 

Parallel Stories:

The story in nineteen thirty-seven and the one in nineteen sixty-four are very similar.  Alicia is having doubts about her marriage and leaves for Barcelona to think about if she wants to stay in her marriage.  In the later time period, it's Alicia's daughter, Isabel, who is wondering if she can remain in her own marriage.  Both mother and daughter face the same pressures and challenges.  But if they were to sit in the same room, neither would admit it to the other!  Oh how alike mothers and daughters can be. 

We also see why Alicia, in particular, makes the choices she does.  Events happen in Spain that make Alicia see clearly what the best decision will be for her.  As I said in my introduction, historical events can influence our lives in many unforeseen ways.

What I Was Mixed About:

As much as I love this series, I really wish there was a glossary of people, or a short summary of the previous books included with each new novel.  It is a little hard to remember who everyone is in relation to everyone else.  This had me struggling to remember important details that would have made helped me understand the current story a little easier.

Rating:  ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Release Date:  May 24th, 2022

Author:  Chanel Cleeton

Publisher:  Berkley Books

Genre:  Historical Fiction

Page Length:  320 Pages

Source:  NetGalley

Format:  E-Book

Recommendation:  This saga is worth starting from the beginning with the novel Next Year in Havana.  There are a lot of characters that the reader should know before reading this current novel.  But it is the story of an entire family that has so much depth and heart.  This series is a wonderful work of historical fiction and I highly recommend it.


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Monday, May 16, 2022

ARC Review: Bloomsbury Girls by Natalie Jenner



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):

The internationally bestselling author of The Jane Austen Society returns with a compelling and heartwarming story of post-war London, a century-old bookstore, and three women determined to find their way in a fast-changing world.

Bloomsbury Books is an old-fashioned new and rare book store that has persisted and resisted change for a hundred years, run by men and guided by the general manager's unbreakable fifty-one rules. But in 1950, the world is changing, especially the world of books and publishing, and at Bloomsbury Books, the girls in the shop have plans:

Vivien Lowry: Single since her aristocratic fiance was killed in action during World War II, the brilliant and stylish Vivien has a long list of grievances - most of them well justified and the biggest of which is Alec McDonough, the Head of Fiction.

Grace Perkins: Married with two sons, she's been working to support the family following her husband's breakdown in the aftermath of the war. Torn between duty to her family and dreams of her own.

Evie Stone: In the first class of female students from Cambridge permitted to earn a degree, Evie was denied an academic position in favor of her less accomplished male rival. Now she's working at Bloomsbury Books while she plans to remake her own future.

As they interact with various literary figures of the time - Daphne Du Maurier, Ellen Doubleday, Sonia Blair (widow of George Orwell), Samuel Beckett, Peggy Guggenheim, and others - these three women with their complex web of relationships, goals and dreams are all working to plot out a future that is richer and more rewarding than anything society will allow.

Review:

I really enjoyed Natalie Jenner's previous novel, The Jane Austin Society.  It was about the people in a small village in England, trying to save the home where the legendary author Jane Austin lived.  Now, Jenner's new novel, Bloomsbury Girls, focuses on some of the same characters, specifically young Evie Stone, living and trying for success in post-war London.  And even though Evie is in the big city, she still manages to surround herself with a group of fascinating people who all work at a struggling bookstore. 

The two other main female characters, Vivien and Grace are also struggling to find their place in the world.  They are both smart, capable and stifled by the societal norms of the times.  Women must always defer to the men in the shop (and in life), even though Vivien, Grace, and Evie, are much more capable than their male counterparts.  It's infuriating.  I loved that all three women work towards the same conclusion that they are worthy, and can take charge of their lives.

We also get to see other characters from The Jane Austin Society such as the famous American actress Mimi Henderson, and Sotheby's auctioneer Yardley Sinclair. There are also interactions with historical characters of the era such as Samuel Beckett.  This is really fun and add to the richness of the story.

With the London setting, themes of women emerging as a force in society, and the delightful characters Bloomsbury Girls is another winning historical novel from Natalie Jenner.  I highly recommend it.

What I Liked:

Setting:

In the years after WWII London was still a city trying to get back on it's feet.  There were food shortages, and people were under-employed.  As the novel begins, people are just starting to have extra money for items such as books.  So Bloomsbury Books should be doing well, but it isn't.  With dozens of rules created decades ago the business is still stuck in the past.  Many of the rules are good ones, such as the customer is always right, and the salespeople should give the customer space to browse without intrusion.  But other rules are ridiculous.  The rule for having events only be at night might seem fine.  But this leave housewives, who need to be home in the evenings to cook for their families, out of the mix.  There is an inherent bias towards discounting female novelists and customers that is really detrimental to book sales.  

Themes:

The storylines of the book all involve the theme of women being denied their due.  All three women are smart and capable.  But it's the insecurities of the men in the story that's the real issue.  These men are desperately trying to remain in control of day to day decisions at the business and (in the case of Grace's husband) in the home.  I felt that it was actually a manifestation of the trauma that they acquired during the war.  What is more emasculating than seeing people you love killed, and the cities you've known all your life destroyed by something you have no power to influence?  But the way they do this is by keeping females "in their place" rather than recognizing that women were the unsung heroes of the war.

Characters:

Vivien knows what books are worth stocking, but every time she suggest a female author she is shot down.  She also is in competition with her male co-worker Alex.  Both are aspiring authors and share an attraction to each other.  But Alex only sees her as an angry woman, not as a whole person.

Grace has a family at home, but is working at a job because her husband has injuries from serving in the War.  He resents this and cuts her down at every opportunity.  Grace feels tremendous guilt for this.  She has a hard time seeing how terrible her marriage is until she starts to spend time with the shop's owner, an Earl.  She never dreams that one of the aristocracy can see her as anything other than an employee.  But through their friendship, she can see that she and her children are being treated terribly by her husband.

Evie Stone, the young servant from the first book, is gifted intellectually, but doesn't understand the social cues that prevent her from getting more prominent jobs in academia.  Although she is one of the most qualified people in her field, she doesn't figure out (until it's too late) that a woman will not have the same opportunities as a man.  But she is determined to create her own opportunities.

Story:

The story follows the Vivien, Grace, and Evie as they find ways to break out of the mens control.  Vivien starts to find female mentors for her writing.  Grace begins to see her self-worth.  But it's Evie who has the long plan in the works.  She finds something while researching at Cambridge that could be of vast historical significance.  The book she's looking for may be at the bookstore. But there are others looking for the book, as well.  For someone like Evie, who is a rule follower, it's might be morally challenging to bend such rules to get what she wants.  

I loved Bloomsbury Girls.  The story was so satisfying and entertaining.  I truly hope it finds as much success as The Jane Austin Society.  If you want to pick up a copy, consider doing so at your favorite independent bookstore, please.  They always need and appreciate the support.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Release Date:  May 17th, 2022

Author:  Natalie Jenner

Publisher:  St. Martin's Press

Genre: Historical Fiction

Page Length:  370 Pages

Source:  NetGalley

Format:  E-Book

Recommendation:  This is everything I love about historical fiction!  I love that it carried on from the author's previous book, The Jane Austin Society, with some of the same characters that I cheered on in that book.  This was a lot of fun, and I highly recommend it.

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