book review · books · dedication · diversity · Family · Historical fiction · reading · secrets · World War 2

The Song of the Jade Lily by Kirsty Manning {Review}

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Blurb:

1939 Two young girls meet in Shanghai, also known as the “Paris of the East.” Beautiful local Li and Jewish refugee Romy form a fierce friendship, but the deepening shadows of World War II fall over the women as they slip between the city’s glamorous French Concession district and the teeming streets of the Shanghai Ghetto. Yet soon the realities of war prove to be too much for these close friends as they are torn apart.

2016: Fleeing London with a broken heart, Alexandra returns to Australia to be with her grandparents, Romy and Wilhelm. Her grandfather is dying, and over the coming weeks Romy and Wilhelm begin to reveal the family mysteries they have kept secret for more than half a century. As fragments of her mother’s history finally become clear, Alexandra struggles with what she learns while more is also revealed about her grandmother’s own past in Shanghai.

After Wilhelm dies, Alexandra flies to Shanghai, determined to trace her grandparents’ past. Peeling back the layers of their hidden lives, she is forced to question what she knows about her family–and herself.

The Song of the Jade Lily is a lush, provocative, and beautiful story of friendship, motherhood, the price of love, and the power of hardship and courage that can shape us all.

Review:

I knew I was going to like this book, I just was not prepared with how much I was going to love it. Being historical fiction, having a dual timeline, and the presence family secrets were all things that attracted me to this story.

My heart was shattered at the beginning of the story with an event that the Bernfeld family experiences as they attempting to flee Austria for their safety. Their family is torn apart in an instant. I couldn’t fathom going thru that experience and still having the strength to continue. They try to keep themselves together and hold on to their hope and faith as they start a new life in Shanghai. They aren’t the only ones who experience a tragic event while trying to get to safety, young Nina loses the people closest to her.

When Romy meets Li, she is shown a whole new part of Shanghai that she may not have otherwise experienced. The descriptions of the foods that she eats is phenomenal. Both girls are full of life and have such wonderful aspirations even with all that is transpiring around them.

Determination, self sacrifice and the will to fight on are all things Romy, Nina, and Li must deal with as they all get older.  Each of the girls is forced to make decisions in order to survive and protect the ones they love.

Meanwhile in present time, Alexander is dealing with a bad break up and then the death of her beloved grandfather. After his death,  Alexander has questions about her family origin. She knows that her birth mother was adopted and she is wanting to know who her mother may have been. That’s when the secrets start surfacing. After her grandmother’s avoidance of the conversation about her mother, Alexander makes the choice to look into her biological history on her own to try to tie up some loose ends.

As the story progresses thru both timelines, you are met with the feeling of hope for all the characters. You also experience the heartbreak they are forced to encounter.

Kirsty Manning weaves such a beautiful story that makes you feel so many emotions. You experience these emotions when you least expect to. At the same time you are trying to solve the mystery of Alexander’s mother’s birth mother. Along the way she is having to deal with some personal issues of her own.

The love between the characters in the story is so heartwarming and heartbreaking at the same time.  I could gush about this book forever.

Rating:

5 Stars

Availability:

Available now in hardcover, ebook, and audio

A special thank you to William Morrow for my copy in exchange for an honest review.

 

 

book review · books · dedication · diversity · Family · own voices review · reading · secrets

Around Harvard Square by CJ Farley {Review}

Blurb:

It’s the nineties, and Tosh Livingston, straight-A student and superstar athlete, is living the dream—he’s made it out of upstate New York and into the incoming freshman class at Harvard University. But after an accident blows up his basketball-playing hopes, he discovers a new purpose in life—to win the frenzied competition for a spot on the staff of the Harvard Harpoon, the school’s legendary humor magazine.

Along with Lao, his pot-smoking roommate from China, their friend Meera, a passive-aggressive science major from India, and Zippa, a Jamaican student-activist with a flair for cartooning, Tosh finds that becoming a member of the Harpoonis weirder and more dangerous than anyone could have imagined. Success requires pushing themselves to their limits and unearthing long-buried secrets that will rock their school and change all of their lives forever.

Review:

This was one of those books I went into partially unaware of what it was going to be about and I also had some of the plot mixed up with another book, lol. Even with all that I ended up enjoying this story.  There were so many relatable aspects and scenarios. Farley explores privilege and race in a way that is not subtle but also not in your face. There were events that happened with Tosh that I have not only experienced in similar fashion but also have been witness to. He is a black male who is a first generation college student even though his father took a few classes at a community college. He is not your typical star athlete who has gotten in an ivy league school because of his sports talent but because of his intellectual ability.  He has to fight stereotypes while also having to manage not stereotyping others. For example, his roommate Lao and their friend Meera. Each of them has a background that they all try to hide from each other. They are all using Harvard as a clean slate to reinvent themselves.

When an opportunity comes to become part of the Harpoon, one of the school’s long-standing publications they are each tested in their morale and in their friendship.

The story is told from Tosh’s point of view to an unnamed person who you find out later is Zippa and that she plays a much bigger part in the story than is realized. This person has even more at stake than the others and much more to prove.

Farley not only explores the topics of racism, he also explores sexism as well. This story takes place in the 90s but it is so similar to what is currently going on today.

There is not a clear-cut ending to this novel and it basically leaves you to your own thoughts and assumptions as to what happens. I find that although that is not a desirable ending for most, it fit this story perfectly.

Rating:

4 Stars

Availability:

Available now in paperback and ebook

 

Thank you to Akashic Books for my free copy in exchange for an honest review.

AIDs · book review · books · diversity · Family · LGBTQ · reading

The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai {Review}

Blurb:

A dazzling new novel of friendship and redemption in the face of tragedy and loss set in 1980s Chicago and contemporary Paris, by the acclaimed and award-winning author Rebecca Makkai.

In 1985, Yale Tishman, the development director for an art gallery in Chicago, is about to pull off an amazing coup, bringing in an extraordinary collection of 1920s paintings as a gift to the gallery. Yet as his career begins to flourish, the carnage of the AIDS epidemic grows around him. One by one, his friends are dying and after his friend Nico’s funeral, the virus circles closer and closer to Yale himself. Soon the only person he has left is Fiona, Nico’s little sister.

Thirty years later, Fiona is in Paris tracking down her estranged daughter who disappeared into a cult. While staying with an old friend, a famous photographer who documented the Chicago crisis, she finds herself finally grappling with the devastating ways AIDS affected her life and her relationship with her daughter. The two intertwining stories take us through the heartbreak of the eighties and the chaos of the modern world, as both Yale and Fiona struggle to find goodness in the midst of disaster.

Review:

I’ve had this book on my TBR since it came out last year and finally read it this month with a buddy read group on Instagram.

This story focuses on 2 separate timelines. One being the mid 80s during the beginning of the AIDs epidemic and told from Yale’s point of view and the other being present day and told from Fiona’s point of view. Makkai weaves back and forth between the two storylines seamlessly. Manipulating your emotions in every possible way. You love some characters, you hate some characters. You feel as if you’ve gained and  lost your family and friends among these pages.

As the story flips back and forth between the two storylines, they are eventually brought together but it is not the nice, neat, and happy merge that you’re hoping for. This book has literally left me wondering how I should feel about it’s ending and I don’t mean that in a bad way. I love the fact that this ending has made me feel that way. I don’t know if I want to feel hopeful or if I just want to break down in tears.

This book shows you the horrors and hopes that people experienced during this time and what the consequences were of losing yourself, putting yourself at risk, and living life freely. There was so much reckless behavior, broken relationships, and strained friendships. There were some happy and hopeful moments throughout the story but there were moments of pure devastation. Makkai’s style of writing puts you right there with the characters and what they are feeling and experiencing. This book is very eye-opening to the subject of the AIDS epidemic.

This book has deserved every award it has been nominated for and I wish it had won them all!!

Rating:

5 Stars

Availability:

Available now in hardcover, ebook and audiobook

book review · books · reading · secrets

Cape May by Chip Cheek {ARC Review}

Blurb:

Late September 1957. Henry and Effie, very young newlyweds from Georgia, arrive in Cape May, New Jersey, for their honeymoon only to find the town is deserted. Feeling shy of each other and isolated, they decide to cut the trip short. But before they leave, they meet a glamorous set of people who sweep them up into their drama. Clara, a beautiful socialite who feels her youth slipping away; Max, a wealthy playboy and Clara’s lover; and Alma, Max’s aloof and mysterious half-sister, to whom Henry is irresistibly drawn.

The empty beach town becomes their playground, and as they sneak into abandoned summer homes, go sailing, walk naked under the stars, make love, and drink a great deal of gin, Henry and Effie slip from innocence into betrayal, with irrevocable consequences.

Erotic and moving, this is a novel about marriage, love and sexuality, and the lifelong repercussions that meeting a group of debauched cosmopolitans has on a new marriage.

Review:

Let me start off by saying “WHOAH!!!!” I almost have no words for this book, the story. One of the things I loved about it was how it was told from a male perspective. Not only was it told from a male perspective, it was from a naive male at that. Another thing I enjoyed about this story was that it wasnt necessarily wrapped and presented in a nice, neat, conflict free package. The conflicts were realistic and relatable. Things got real and there wasn’t any sugar-coating to it, provocative is a word that keeps coming to mind. This book is provocative in so many ways. It is also thought-provoking.

Chip brings to life the story of young newlyweds, Henry and Effie. This young couple who throw out a vibe of innocence and cluelessness. Both of these prove to be wrong as the story develops. I will say that I did not care for Effie and that is because I felt that she belittled Henry in so many off-handed ways. I don’t know if that was intentional but it is definitely how I felt about her interactions with him. He doted on her and she basically treated him like a commoner. I wonder if that is because they came from different backgrounds or because she was just a spoiled brat. You are also introduced to Clara, Max and Alma. The three of them are quite the trio. Clara loving and doting on Max. Max almost aloof to Clara’s emotions. And Alma, seeming quite the innocent orphaned child who has been thrust into this carefree life.

Nothing is what it seems in this story. The conflicts that occur make you wonder what you would do in those situations. Chip demonstrates with each of these characters that one can never truly say never about anything in their life.

Before I wrap this up, I do have to mention the level of steaminess that is portrayed in this novel. There haven’t been many books that could make me blush in public but this one definitely tops the list. I do have to say that the steaminess is not why I am going to give this book 5 stars, it is the total content of the book and the writing that make me give this book 5 stars.

This is for sure a beach read! Unless you’re afraid you’ll blush too much, lol.

Rating:

5 Stars

Availability:

April 30th, 2019 in hardcover, ebook and audiobook

 

Thank you to Celadon Books for this opportunity to read and provide an honest review of this novel.

 

 

abuse · book review · Family · reading · secrets

Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie {Review}

Blurb:

Fifteen-year-old Kambili and her older brother Jaja lead a privileged life in Enugu, Nigeria. They live in a beautiful house, with a caring family, and attend an exclusive missionary school. They’re completely shielded from the troubles of the world. Yet, as Kambili reveals in her tender-voiced account, things are less perfect than they appear. Although her Papa is generous and well respected, he is fanatically religious and tyrannical at home—a home that is silent and suffocating.

As the country begins to fall apart under a military coup, Kambili and Jaja are sent to their aunt, a university professor outside the city, where they discover a life beyond the confines of their father’s authority. Books cram the shelves, curry and nutmeg permeate the air, and their cousins’ laughter rings throughout the house. When they return home, tensions within the family escalate, and Kambili must find the strength to keep her loved ones together.

Review:

This is the second novel I have read by Adichie and because I enjoyed Americanah so much, I had very high hopes for this story. I was not disappointed. In fact, I was even more blown away with her beautiful prose and style of writing.

This story is told from the perspective of a fifteen year old girl named Kambili. She is the daughter of a well to do businessman and a religious fanatic. From the outside, the world believes that Kambili, her older brother Jaja, and her mother live the perfect life of happiness. In reality, their home life is everything but that. Kambili’s father has horrifying standards for his family and they often pay in pain when they disappoint him.

Although I did like the story being told by Kambili, there were moments when I wanted to get Jaja’s perspective on what they were going thru especially when they went to visit their aunt, Ifeoma.

Adichie draws you in and forces you to connect to her characters in such a way that you don’t even realize it’s happening. The story flows at a remarkable pace. The dynamic nature between the characters is astounding. I admit when I first started reading this story, I didn’t think I would connect with Kambili and I thought her character wouldn’t develop like it did.

Reading this story and seeing what Kambili and her family went thru, broke my heart in many ways. This story makes you think about how an outside perspective can often cause disillusionment when it comes to someone’s life and what they may be dealing with or going through. You also think about how much you are willing to take or deal with when it comes to your loved ones. How much you are willing to sacrifice. Does being a religious figure or devout believer really separate you from those you believe to beneath you for being non believers when you aren’t living as perfectly as you think?

I highly recommend this book if you are a fan of Adichie. I still can’t believe that this was her debut novel.

This book was the first of my backlist buddy read that I’m hosting on Instagram this year.

Rating:

4.5 Stars

Availability:

Available now in hardcover, paperback, ebook, and audio.

book review · books · Family · secrets · World War 2

The Wartime Sisters by Lynda Cohen Loigman {Review}

Blurb:

Two estranged sisters, raised in Brooklyn and each burdened with her own shocking secret, are reunited at the Springfield Armory in the early days of WWII. While one sister lives in relative ease on the bucolic Armory campus as an officer’s wife, the other arrives as a war widow and takes a position in the Armory factories as a “soldier of production.” Resentment festers between the two, and secrets are shattered when a mysterious figure from the past reemerges in their lives.

Review:

The main setting of this story is at the Springfield Armory during WW2. This was a place that I had never heard of before and after reading this story I definitely want to learn more about it. I am thankful that the author chose this for her setting. Definitely something different for a WW2 novel.

Having read and enjoyed Loigman’s debut novel, The Two-Family House, I was very happy to see that she was about to publish her second novel AND it was a historical fiction!

This story mainly follows two sisters, Ruth and Millie. They are complete opposites of each other in all aspects of the word. As they grow up, their relationship becomes almost non existent. After the death of their parents, and Millie’s husband comes up missing, Ruth invites Millie to live with her and her family at the Springfield Armory. From there we are then introduced to Lillian and Arietta who both have experienced life changing events.

The experiences that each of the four women have dealt with bring them together in some form or fashion. But what is a good story without there being some type of secret? Omitting the truth about something is just as detrimental as telling a lie. This is observed in this story.

Loigman uses WW2 as a perfect backdrop for this story. Although these women aren’t fitting battles directly on the line, their every day lives during the war are constant battles. They are fighting their own pasts, secrets, and even some of the very people they love.

Rating:

4 Stars

Availability:

Available in hardcover, ebook, and audiobook

I am so thankful to St. Martins press for sending me an advanced copy of this book to read and review. I look forward to seeing what else Lynda Cohen Loigman is going to write.

book review · books · dedication · Family · hockey · reading

Us Against You by Fredrik Backman {Review}

Blurb:

After everything that the citizens of Beartown have gone through, they are struck yet another blow when they hear that their beloved local hockey team will soon be disbanded. What makes it worse is the obvious satisfaction that all the former Beartown players, who now play for a rival team in Hed, take in that fact. Amidst the mounting tension between the two rivals, a surprising newcomer is handpicked to be Beartown’s new hockey coach.

Soon a new team starts to take shape around Amat, the fastest player you’ll ever see; Benji, the intense lone wolf; and Vidar, a born-to-be-bad troublemaker. But bringing this team together proves to be a challenge as old bonds are broken, new ones are formed, and the enmity with Hed grows more and more acute.

As the big match approaches, the not-so-innocent pranks and incidents between the communities pile up and their mutual contempt grows deeper. By the time the last game is finally played, a resident of Beartown will be dead, and the people of both towns will be forced to wonder if, after all they’ve been through, the game they love can ever return to something simple and innocent.

Review:

Once again Backman strings your emotions along as we return to the beloved Beartown and hockey. Okay, if you haven’t read Beartown, I suggest that you add it to your TBR soon. I did a review of it earlier this year and even if sports stories aren’t your thing, you can still enjoy the story. Okay back to the book at hand, I didn’t think that Beartown needed a sequel but none the less, I was excited to learn that there was going to be one. I didn’t know where Backman could take the story considering the first book looked into the future of some of the characters, but he managed to pull it off. I didn’t enjoy this novel quite as much as I enjoyed Beartown, but it was still a good story. I felt that the style of writing changed some with this novel, but I could be alone with that opinion. It is still a well written story. I have to say that even though this is a sequel, it could be read by itself.

Although I appreciated a look into some of the minor characters from Beartown, there were moments I felt the story was too drawn out. Once again, I fell in love with Benji and Amat and wanted to protect them as best as I could. With this story we are given more information on “The Pack” and given another character to fall in love with, Vidir. Who doesn’t love the outcast or the underdog? Alongside with characters that you fall in love with, you seem to always have those who make you want to shake them. Mostly it was the adults who made me want to shake them.

The story moves along at a decent pace but there were some parts I wanted to move a bit faster, especially toward the end of the book. Once I got to the end however, I could see that the rest of the story was just a build up for the climax. Let me tell you, I could hardly make it thru because my emotions were going all over the place. The end of the novel is probably my least favorite out of all Backman’s novels.

With that being said, am I disappointed that I read it? No, I am not and yes, I would still recommend it to those who enjoyed Beartown.

This is the type of story that makes you think about growing up, the difficulties that children face, and the moments of doubt that parents may have, and sacrifice. In the end, we see how important family is and how loyalty plays a role in life on and off the ice.

Rating:

3 stars

Availability:

Available now in hardcover, ebook, and audiobook.