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Quick reviews on some recent reads

I managed to read more than I thought last month. I read a total of 10 books and didn’t review any of them because life has been life. It’s 2020 and ya’ll know what I am talking about. Anyway, since I am still really not in the mood to post full reviews but I needed something to do, I figured I would share some quick thoughts on some of my reads.

Sisters of War by Lana Kortchik (gifted copy from Harper Collins, published September 2020)

Blurb:

A dark shadow is about to fall over the golden cupolas of Kiev…

As the Red Army retreats in the face of Hitler’s relentless advance across Eastern Europe, the lives of sisters Natasha and Lisa are about to change forever.

While Lisa’s plans to marry her childhood sweetheart turn to tragedy under the occupation, Natasha grows close to Mark, a Hungarian soldier, enlisted against all his principles on the side of the Nazis.

But as Natasha fights for the survival of the friends and family she loves, the war threatens to tear them apart.

Review:

Yes, this is a story set during WW2 and yes the women on the cover aren’t looking at the “camera” but I don’t hold that against the story. This story had some intense moments. You didn’t really know what was going to happen from each moment to the next. Each character had an equal chance of not surviving or having a happy ending. Now, I don’t know if there is a such thing as a happy ending in a story that contains so much loss and devastation but we have to take gems of happiness where we can get them. Lana really plays with your emotions in this story.

Rating:

3 Golden Girls

Diamond Doris by Doris Payne (gifted copy from Amistad Books, published September 2019)

Blurb:

Growing up during the Depression in the segregated coal town of Slab Fork, West Virginia, Doris Payne was told her dreams were unattainable for poor black girls like her. Surrounded by people who sought to limit her potential, Doris vowed to turn the tables after the owner of a jewelry store threw her out when a white customer arrived. Neither racism nor poverty would hold her back; she would get what she wanted and help her mother escape an abusive relationship.

Using her southern charm, quick wit, and fascination with magic as her tools, Payne began shoplifting small pieces of jewelry from local stores. Over the course of six decades, her talents grew with each heist. Becoming an expert world-class jewel thief, she daringly pulled off numerous diamond robberies and her Jewish boyfriend fenced the stolen gems to Hollywood celebrities.

Doris’s criminal exploits went unsolved well into the 1970s—partly because the stores did not want to admit that they were duped by a black woman. Eventually realizing Doris was using him, her boyfriend turned her in. She was arrested after stealing a diamond ring in Monte Carlo that was valued at more than half a million dollars. But even prison couldn’t contain this larger-than-life personality who cleverly used nuns as well as various ruses to help her break out. With her arrest in 2013 in San Diego, Doris’s fame skyrocketed when media coverage of her astonishing escapades exploded.

Today, at eighty-seven, Doris, as bold and vibrant as ever, lives in Atlanta, and is celebrated for her glamorous legacy. She sums up her adventurous career best: “It beat being a teacher or a maid.” A rip-roaringly fun and exciting story as captivating and audacious as Catch Me if You Can and Can You Ever Forgive Me?—Diamond Doris is the portrait of a captivating anti-hero who refused to be defined by the prejudices and mores of a hypocritical society.

Review:

I did not want this story to end. I had never heard of Doris Payne before receiving a copy of this book. This was a memoir that I did not mind going into without having knowledge of the writer. It’s a short memoir but it packs punches. Doris was a beast in her prime and in my opinion, she is still a beast for pumping out her story so late in life. This is going to be one of my favorite memoirs. And yes, I do intend on watching the movie whenever it comes out. I hope that they do it justice. I believe Doris did what she did out of necessity and not out of greed but it seemed to also become a thrill to her. The story of Doris Payne goes to show you that bad assery comes in all forms.

Rating:

4 Golden Girls

The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E. Schwab (gifted copy from Tor Books, published October 2020)

Blurb:

France, 1714: in a moment of desperation, a young woman makes a Faustian bargain to live forever and is cursed to be forgotten by everyone she meets.

Thus begins the extraordinary life of Addie LaRue, and a dazzling adventure that will play out across centuries and continents, across history and art, as a young woman learns how far she will go to leave her mark on the world.

But everything changes when, after nearly 300 years, Addie stumbles across a young man in a hidden bookstore and he remembers her name. 

Review:

When I was first approached about this book, I admit I did a major eyeroll. I did not give much thought to it. And the same went when I received one of the influencer boxes. I was thinking that as much work that was put into the boxes possibly meant the book was not going to live up to the hype(I’ve been fooled by cute boxes before). Then I started reading the book and OMG!!!! WOW! Talk about a humbling moment. I had to eat my words. I was wrong about how I would feel about the story. It was so engrossing. I just wanted more and more. I devoured this story. This is a book that I would consider revisiting in the future.

Rating:

4 Golden Girls

The Book of Lost Names by Kristin Harmel (gifted copy from Gallery Books, published July 2020)

Blurb:

Eva Traube Abrams, a semi-retired librarian in Florida, is shelving books one morning when her eyes lock on a photograph in a magazine lying open nearby. She freezes; it’s an image of a book she hasn’t seen in sixty-five years—a book she recognizes as The Book of Lost Names.

The accompanying article discusses the looting of libraries by the Nazis across Europe during World War II—an experience Eva remembers well—and the search to reunite people with the texts taken from them so long ago. The book in the photograph, an eighteenth-century religious text thought to have been taken from France in the waning days of the war, is one of the most fascinating cases. Now housed in Berlin’s Zentral- und Landesbibliothek library, it appears to contain some sort of code, but researchers don’t know where it came from—or what the code means. Only Eva holds the answer—but will she have the strength to revisit old memories and help reunite those lost during the war?

As a graduate student in 1942, Eva was forced to flee Paris after the arrest of her father, a Polish Jew. Finding refuge in a small mountain town in the Free Zone, she begins forging identity documents for Jewish children fleeing to neutral Switzerland. But erasing people comes with a price, and along with a mysterious, handsome forger named Rémy, Eva decides she must find a way to preserve the real names of the children who are too young to remember who they really are. The records they keep in The Book of Lost Names will become even more vital when the resistance cell they work for is betrayed and Rémy disappears.

An engaging and evocative novel reminiscent of The Lost Girls of Paris and The Alice NetworkThe Book of Lost Names is a testament to the resilience of the human spirit and the power of bravery and love in the face of evil.

Review:

Yes, another WW2 historical fiction with the infamous cover, lol. This story takes place in Paris. A story of bravery that makes you wonder if you would be brave enough to endure the risk of death to help those who can’t help themselves. I remember trying to forge one of my parent’s signatures one time and the amount of stress I felt was not even worth the risk. I couldn’t imagine trying to forge documents knowing that if I am caught, the consequences are going to be horrific not just for me but also for those I love. Diligence is another word that comes to mind when thinking about this story. Another thing, this book was soooo hard to find when it came out. When it was finally back in stock without a 1-2 month wait for delivery, I ordered it and then I received a gifted copy from the publisher, lol. I will definitely be reading other books by this author.

Rating:

4 Golden Girls

Me by Elton John (published by Henry Holt in October 2019)

Blurb:

In his only official autobiography, music icon Elton John writes about his extraordinary life, which is also the subject of the film Rocketman.

Christened Reginald Dwight, he was a shy boy with Buddy Holly glasses who grew up in the London suburb of Pinner and dreamed of becoming a pop star. By the age of twenty-three, he was on his first tour of America, facing an astonished audience in his tight silver hotpants, bare legs and a T-shirt with ROCK AND ROLL emblazoned across it in sequins. Elton John had arrived and the music world would never be the same again.

His life has been full of drama, from the early rejection of his work with song-writing partner Bernie Taupin to spinning out of control as a chart-topping superstar; from half-heartedly trying to drown himself in his LA swimming pool to disco-dancing with the Queen; from friendships with John Lennon, Freddie Mercury and George Michael to setting up his AIDS Foundation. All the while, Elton was hiding a drug addiction that would grip him for over a decade.

In Me Elton also writes about getting clean and changing his life, about finding love with David Furnish and becoming a father. 

Review:

While I enjoy reading stories about people I am not that familiar, I also enjoy memoirs/autobiographies but those I am familiar with. I knew I wanted to read this one because I find Elton John to be one of those celebrities who has done so much and seems to have lived forever. I am always curious as to what their lives are/were like before a obtaining a celebrity status. I listened to this one on audio and although it’s not narrated by Elton himself, the narrator still did a fabulous job. I also learned that the man who narrated the book is the same man who plays Elton John in Rocketman. Elton did some crazy shit during his life. But he also had enough sense to get help before it was too late. I think that was probably my favorite part of his story. Now, I did attempt to watch Rocketman after finishing this book but I couldn’t get into it. I knew there was going to be music, but I wasn’t expecting folks to break out in full song and dance. I may try watching it again at a later date.

Rating:

4 Golden Girls

Pachinko by Min Jin Lee (published by Grand Central in February 2017)

Blurb:

Pachinko follows one Korean family through the generations, beginning in early 1900s Korea with Sunja, the prized daughter of a poor yet proud family, whose unplanned pregnancy threatens to shame them all. Deserted by her lover, Sunja is saved when a young tubercular minister offers to marry and bring her to Japan. 

So begins a sweeping saga of an exceptional family in exile from its homeland and caught in the indifferent arc of history. Through desperate struggles and hard-won triumphs, its members are bound together by deep roots as they face enduring questions of faith, family, and identity.

Review:

Family saga, historical fiction, 400+ pages. Yes, please and thank you. I am so mad at myself for letting this book sit on my shelf unread for 3 years. At the same time, I am glad that I waited to read it. I think I appreciated it more because I waited to read it. I had an idea what it was going to be about and did not reread the synopsis when I decided to finally pick it up and I am glad that I didn’t. This is a beautifully written story and it will take your heart and hold it hostage. What each of these characters has to endure is so horrifying at times. Each of them have so many choices they have to make in order to survive. I intend on reading Min Jin’s debut novel, Free Food for Millionaires which has also just been sitting on my shelf.

Rating:

4 Golden Girls

Not pictured, but read:

The Dutch House by Ann Patchett (published by Harper in September 2019)

Blurb:

At the end of the Second World War, Cyril Conroy combines luck and a single canny investment to begin an enormous real estate empire, propelling his family from poverty to enormous wealth. His first order of business is to buy the Dutch House, a lavish estate in the suburbs outside of Philadelphia. Meant as a surprise for his wife, the house sets in motion the undoing of everyone he loves.

The story is told by Cyril’s son Danny, as he and his older sister, the brilliantly acerbic and self-assured Maeve, are exiled from the house where they grew up by their stepmother. The two wealthy siblings are thrown back into the poverty their parents had escaped from and find that all they have to count on is one another. It is this unshakable bond between them that both saves their lives and thwarts their futures.

Set over the course of five decades, The Dutch House is a dark fairy tale about two smart people who cannot overcome their past. Despite every outward sign of success, Danny and Maeve are only truly comfortable when they’re together. Throughout their lives, they return to the well-worn story of what they’ve lost with humor and rage. But when at last they’re forced to confront the people who left them behind, the relationship between an indulged brother and his ever-protective sister is finally tested. 

Review:

So, I did this one on audio. I am so glad that I did because I more than likely would have DNF’d it. Tom Hanks saved the day with this one. Had he not narrated it, I would have DNF’d it. While listening to this story and referencing the synopsis several times, I still didn’t quite understand the point of the story. This is one that received quite the hype when it first came out. For me, it was not worth the hype. That is I have to say about this one. If you read it and enjoyed it, please tell me what made you enjoy it.

Rating:

2 Golden Girls (only because Tom Hanks narrated the audio and I checked it out from the library)

books · Bootlegging · reading · reading wheelhouse

Reading Wheelhouse

As a book lover, many of us have heard the term “wheelhouse” a time or two. For me it didn’t really sink in until recently. I have always considered myself a reader of just about everything minus the hardcore romance stuff but I have come to realize what my jam genre really is. Now don’t get me wrong, I love trying new things but I know that if it is not in my wheelhouse, I won’t always get the same enjoyment out of it that others may get if it is in their wheelhouse. I am also a tougher critic on the work  when it comes to reading and reviewing something out of my wheelhouse. I try to keep an open mind but sometimes it is very difficult especially if the novel has gotten rave reviews. I want to be blown away if I am stepping outside my wheelhouse. I believe that is true for other readers as well when they step out of their comfort zone of wheelhouse reading.

My Jam Genre(s)

My jam genre(s) would have to be literary fiction and historical fiction. I find more comfort in books that cause my emotions to run all over the place and I enjoy books that have take place during historical times. I came to this realization a few weeks ago as I was preparing some books to review on the Reading Envy podcast. One of the books I picked  has been a favorite of mine since I was about 12 years old. It is I, Tituba, Black Witch of Salem by Maryse Conde. It is not only a historical fiction but it is also a novel that puts me in my feelings each time that I read it. The other two novels I picked were The Dinner List by Rebecca Serle and The Girls at 17 Swann Street by Yara Zgheib. Both of these were books that took me on an emotional ride. I don’t think that The Dinner List was supposed to be an emotional read but it took me on a different route than most readers.

Wheelhouse Dilemma

What do you do when you find a book that is in your wheelhouse but it just doesn’t do anything for you? Do you keep reading, hoping that there is something that you just haven’t picked up on or do you scrap it and move on to the next? I will admit there are some books that are considered to be in my wheelhouse but they just didn’t seem to do it for me. On the same note, there have also been some books that aren’t in my wheelhouse that have caught me by surprise with how much I enjoyed them.

 

In Conclusion

What I have learned through all this is that, read what makes you happy and read what you enjoy. Don’t be tied to what you think you have to enjoy just because it falls into your wheelhouse and don’t be afraid to scrap something that falls into your wheelhouse but you just aren’t enjoying it.