Categories
audiobooks Fantasy Historical Fiction Middle Grade

The Witches of Crannock Dale by Thomas M. Kane (Audiobook Review)

Thanks to the author for letting me listen to and review the audiobook of The Witches of Crannock Dale! I’ll also be interviewing Thomas Kane on the Sunday Brunch Series soon so keep an eye out for that 🍳🎤

Bookish Quick Facts:

  • Title: The Witches of Crannock Dale
  • Series: Mara of the League #1
  • Author: Thomas M. Kane (Nar. Stevie Marie)
  • Publisher & Release: Self Published, 2019
  • Length: 288 pages (11h48m run time)
  • Rate & Recommend: ⭐⭐⭐⭐ yes for middle grade fans!

Synopsis:
Spies. Witch-hunts. A little girl who asks dangerous questions.

When invaders threaten, eleven-year-old Mara must grow up fast. All her life, her homeland has been on the brink of war with the Commonwealth of Waan. But as bells warn of approaching enemies, her own realm’s knights arrest her favorite aunt for witchcraft. This prompts her to rethink much of what she has been taught about her country. When adults ignore her points, she teams up with unlikely friends in a bid to rescue her aunt and protect her village. Mara must make sense of grown-up politics if she is to save the people she loves.

This is Book One of the political fantasy series Mara of the League.

I thought that for a middle-grade, this one checks pretty much all the boxes for me.  I can’t speak for the rest of the series yet but Mara is 11 here, and the content stays 100% age audience appropriate. Although she is 17 in book two I believe it remains a middle grade age level throughout.

Mara is a very smart and brave little girl who eventually becomes a spy for her country in later books. Here in Witches we are introduced to Mara and her family and learn about the plots and political conflicts happening in the world.  Told in the first person point of view of an 11 year old, I think it’s a marvel that Kane had me interested in the imposter bandit king and how the war will eventually unfurl.

Mara is an easy character to root for as she becomes involved in local issues.  I liked her brother too and the rest of the family.

As I’m obviously not 12 anymore (🤣🤣🤣), when reviewing for middle grade, I tend to look more at whether the book is fast paced (yes), interesting (yes), repetitive (no), and age appropriate (yes). I think it will hold their attention well. It’s also extremely well edited for a self published book so that’s helpful!

Are the themes something I would want my little niece reading? Yes, absolutely. Mara has to navigate complicated adult politics while still doing what she thinks is right. She also learns  that sometimes rules do have a time and place in society, and that actions can have severe and unintended consequences.  I like the sense of responsibility she has towards family and even town & country.

The issue I had is that the audio itself did not hold my interest, likely due to the Authors Direct app and a few challenges that it presented. That was an experience related issue though and I think Stevie Marie was a pretty solid, clearly spoken narrator. I did end up reading on Kindle Unlimited though and was then lucky enough to see the map and drawings.

Overall: I’m excited to keep reading to see how Mara and the war develop.  It’s a solid middle grade read that I think YA can enjoy too since Mara ages fairly quickly in the books. Stay tuned for the author interview!

Categories
Fiction Historical Fiction Literary Fiction Romance

The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne (Book Thoughts)

In an effort to broaden my reading horizons and shore up some of my literary gaps, I started reading a few classics every year.

For my summer session of classic torture, I was surprised to find that The Scarlet Letter was not really that challenging to read. It is fairly short and the language isn’t terribly insufferable either (My last classic was Notre Dame de Paris ((The Hunchback of Notre Dame)) and … Whew, no thanks).

So let’s talk about my reaction to the book, if I think it has relevance today, and I’ll treat you to my teen-speak synopsis of the book.

Originally published in 1850, here’s the Signet Classics synopsis:

This tragic novel of sin and redemption is Hawthorne’s masterpiece of American fiction.

An ardent young woman, her cowardly lover, and her aging vengeful husband—these are the central characters in this stark drama of the conflict between passion and convention in the harsh world of seventeenth-century Boston. Tremendously moving and rich in psychological insight, this dramatic depiction of the struggle between mind and heart illuminates Hawthorne’s concern with our Puritan past and its influence on American life.

Broadly – I enjoyed the read.  It’s not hard to know what’s happening, and minus a bit of minute descriptive language mostly in the first novella about the Custom House, it was pretty readable.

His author intro is everything: Oh you’re offended by my sketch? I think it’s fine, it’s not like I burned the place down!! I bet Hawthorne had a big personality.

Relevance: I think it has relevance as a cautionary tale today in a world where teen moms get “famous” on TV and you can’t even scroll Bookstagram without seeing books with x rated content advertised. I would definitely put this in a home school curriculum to talk about Puritanism, early settlements, guilt, adultery, having children out of wedlock, stigmas and identity, I mean there’s a lot of discussion content here that I imagine parents would rather handle.

Here’s my teen speak synopsis:

Part 1: So Mr. Hawthorne was in the hot seat for blasting his employer after being fired, and said HaHaHaHA I’m gonna publish this anyway because it’s not offensive so enjoy! Sticks and stones!

Part 2: The Scarlet Letter. Ok so this lady living in Puritan Salem/Boston finds this brown eyed pastor waxing poetic, and even though she’s married, they get their shenanigans on. What the heck did she think would happen when she had a baby? This wasn’t 2020 where Jerry Springer lets your baby daddy and your husband fight it out on live TV, your @$$ is going to be hung by the neck!

That didn’t happen because Hawthorne had to write a book longer than 5 pages, so the two men have to kill each other with psychological warfare instead. A good lesson about carrying around a guilty conscience.

Long story short – actions have consequenes

A few random thoughts:

  • I thought it was funny that even the beggars were shunning charity from Hester. These days everyone grabs all the free stuff regardless of who is handing it out
  • A character mentioned transmuting alchemy to gold, which is something I usually see in fantasy books or nonfiction moreso than historical fiction
  • The book takes place 50 years before the Salem Witch Trials and Hawthorne brought in some real historical figures as characters.  Bellingham was the real governor, as was Hibbins who mentioned witchcraft throughout the book and was hanged in real life shortly after it took place. I didn’t know how many women were hung before the actual frenzy took place

Overall thoughts: I didn’t feel bad for Hester at all. She wasn’t forced into marriage and knew the laws of the time. Dimmesdale probably took advantage of his authority position and that isn’t an excuse for either of them since she clearly knows how to say NO to men in power based off the rest of the book.  I know 2020 is whack but choices, actions, they all have consequences and I’ll never support adultery.  That’s why I think this is a good cautionary tale to lay against idiocracy like “Teen Mom”

This is a quicker, easier to pick apart classic and I definitely think it held up over the years.

Soooo what classic should I read in the fall?

Categories
Historical Fiction Young Adult

The Silent Unseen by Amanda McCrina

Thank you to Bookish First and the publisher for my free copy of The Silent Unseen in exchange for an honest review! I don’t remember entering this raffle. I also don’t regret the read, even if it ultimately fell flat for me

I am a terribly myopic history reader, so a book about WW2 era Ukraine + Poland + Russia was hard to put into context.  Apparently the Germans were mining the area for slave labor and worse, and once they left, the Russians were coming in to mop up the forces still fighting (Polish transplants vs native Ukrainians)?

This is the setting, with Maria and Kostya on two very different sides of what seem like the same page, yet having to work together. Both had villages ruined by war, dead family, and were fighting for whatever they had left.

Bookish Quick Facts:

  •  Title: The Silent Unseen
  • Author: Amanda McCrina
  • Publisher & Release: Farrar Strauss & Giroux (BYR) April, 2022
  • Length: 320 pages
  • Rate & Recommend: 🌟🌟🌟 yes for YA readers

Here’s the synopsis from GoodReads:

Poland, July 1944. Sixteen-year-old Maria is making her way home after years of forced labor in Nazi Germany, only to find her village destroyed and her parents killed in a war between the Polish Resistance and Ukrainian nationalists. To Maria’s shock, the local Resistance unit is commanded by her older brother, Tomek—who she thought was dead. He is now a “Silent Unseen,” a special-operations agent with an audacious plan to resist a new and even more dangerous enemy sweeping in from the East.

When Tomek disappears, Maria is determined to find him, but the only person who might be able to help is a young Ukrainian prisoner and the last person Maria trusts—even as she feels a growing connection to him that she can’t resist.

Tightly woven, relentlessly intense, The Silent Unseen depicts an explosive entanglement of loyalty, lies, and love during wartime

I feel like this book is SUPER YA and missed it’s emotional impact due to the rushed and somewhat silly romance and ending. While I learned of some of the horrors (forced labor and murders and kidnappings and such) that happened, I had trouble with the broader historical context.

First let me say a few good things.  It was a quick read and the action (if not confusing at times) was constant.  I couldn’t keep the three resistance/military groups apart in my head very well without understanding their conflict and governmental reach.  It was an exciting plot though and I would like to know more about this area during the end of WW2.

Also I liked the characters.  Maria was brave and a little silly at times (like a teen) but I liked that she and Kostya showed both their strong and scared kid sides.  That made them feel like real people.

I wasn’t buying the romance though, not one bit, not at all. Even becoming friends would have been challenging for the two main characters, and meaningful, but they hadn’t even trusted each other before they started having feelings and it went from enemy to romance nearly instantaneously.

I also think the book wrapped up super quickly like it just glossed over the plot points towards the end, not explaining a lot.of things, and then ended. Maybe there’s meant to be a sequel but this ending was just silly to me and felt like it shrugged off the gravity of the rest of the novel.  That said though, the author probably did not want to leave YA readers feeling depressed afterwards so she gave all of the characters something to be hopeful about.

I didn’t dislike it but didn’t love it either. Would recommend for YA / WW2 readers who like YA romance elements.  The content (minus some violent acts and descriptions of violent acts) is appropriate for the age group and I think she left a lot of room for a sequel in Kostya’s storyline.

Categories
Fiction Historical Fiction Literary Fiction

Notre-Dame de Paris (or The Hunchback of Notre Dame) by Victor Hugo

Here is the summary via Amazon:

The complete and unabridged translation of Victor Hugo’s classic novel, The Hunchback of Notre Dame.

The setting of this extraordinary historical novel is medieval Paris: a city of vividly intermingled beauty and ugliness, surging with violent life under the two towers of its greatest structure and supreme symbol, the cathedral of Notre Dame.

Against this background, Victor Hugo unfolds the haunting drama of Quasimodo, the hunchback; Esmeralda, the gypsy dancer; and Claude Frollo, the priest tortured by the specter of his own damnation. Shaped by a profound sense of tragic irony, it is a work that gives full play to the author’s brilliant imagination and his remarkable powers of description.

Translated by Walter J. Cobb

**originally published in France, 1831.  Approx 500 pages but differs between versions*

I tend to find classic novels a huge struggle to read. This is especially true when the author takes an entire section (literally) of the book just to describe the view from the cathedral rooftop.  I knew from reading a number of modern reviews that Notre-Dame de Paris is a tiresome read at times, but even I wasn’t ready for the ratio of story involving the characters – very small – vs. the rest of the book. The rest includes architecture, history, society, more architecture, more social commentary, more history etc.

That said, I readily admit to using a teaching guide so I could at least follow and try to absorb what Hugo was trying to tell his readers.  I think that really enriched the read. I know next to nothing about French history so it was kind of interesting to see the parallels and explanations that he was giving the 1830s Paris readers, of the medieval 1400s Paris in which the book takes place.  Truly this is a piece of historical fiction

There is also a running commentary on architecture, orphans, classism, unrequited love and all the forms it can take, plus internal vs external beauty.  I liked the parts that actually focused on the characters.

The characters are really funny actually, I liked Gringoire the most. I think he liked the goat more than he liked La Esmerelda. Then she was terrified of everyone else who loved her, except for Phoebus, who was (pardon my French haha) basically chasing hookers.  She was obsessed with the idea of him. Frollo and his failures made for an interesting villain,he basically sunk into madness once his ideals were thrown haywire and his life caught up with him.

One other thing that seemed funny was that in this original version, La Esmeralda had absolutely NO personality at all, she was just entirely a tool for the story. The men were actually interesting though, and so was the general arc of the story

Oh, gosh, I forgot the one that truly had me cracking up – the frequent use of the word Ejaculated in conversation 😂 oh I do hope that wasn’t the translator having a gag at Hugo for some reason. It does make me wish I could read in other languages – how much of an original work truly gets lost in translation?

This one was a true struggle but I’d recommend reading it if you enjoy classics! I would imagine though that Hugo was rolling in his grave over the Disney version, what a travesty haha I was expecting something much different but am glad that I read the full, unabridged translation.

Categories
Adventure Historical Fiction

The New Kingdom (ARC Review) by Wilbur Smith & Mark Chadbourn

Thank you so much to Zaffre and Bookish First for the opportunity to read yet another new Wilbur Smith novel!

I swear by Smith’s historical fiction, with it’s  unapologetic brutality and what I feel is probably a pretty honest portrayal of how things would have been.  By all accounts his novels are well researched, plus always an interesting adventure whether the book is read in order or as a standalone.

That said, I will admit to seeing a huge difference in the writing quality of this installment vs. the original Smith novels.  If I remember correctly this one fits in sometime around Warlock, or it crunches the events of a few books…. Heck maybe I need a reread

Bookish Quick Facts:

  • Title: The New Kingdom
  • Series: Ancient Egypt, #7
  • Author: Wilbur Smith & Mark Chadbourn
  • Publisher & Release: Zaffre, 9/7/21
  • Length: 432 pgs
  • Rate & Recommend: 🌟🌟🌟🌟 yes for fans of HistFic and adventure

Here is the description:

In the heart of Egypt,
Under the watchful eye of the Gods,
A new power is rising . . .

In the city of Lahun, Hui lives an enchanted life. The favoured son of a doting father, and ruler-in-waiting of the great city, his fate is set. But behind the beautiful façades a sinister evil is plotting. Craving power and embittered by jealousy, Hui’s stepmother, the great sorceress Ipsetnofret, and Hui’s own brother Qen, orchestrate the downfall of Hui’s father, condemning Hui and seizing power in the city.

Cast out and alone, Hui finds himself a captive of a skilled and powerful army of outlaws, the Hyksos. Determined to seek vengeance for the death of his father and rescue his sister, Ipwet, Hui swears his allegiance to these enemies of Egypt. Through them he learns the art of war, learning how to fight and becoming an envied charioteer.

But soon Hui finds himself in an even greater battle – one for the very heart of Egypt itself. As the pieces fall into place and the Gods themselves join the fray, Hui finds himself fighting alongside the Egyptian General Tanus and renowned Mage, Taita. Now Hui must choose his path – will he be a hero in the old world, or a master in a new kingdom?

Smith saw potential in the Hui character and wrote him a history/spinoff story, possibly series.  I totally 100% endorse this decision and can’t wait to see what the next one holds.

While each and every one of Smith’s books can be read as a standalone, the cameos in The New Kingdom are there along with quite a few easter eggs for returning readers.  I thought Taita’s eyes would fall off his face from rolling them so much.

Despite solid pacing and excitement throughout, I thought the book didn’t quite deliver on the synopsis. The Ka stone and the Gods were hinted to be a big part of the novel and to avoid spoilers, I will just say that I wanted more from both of those topics.

I wanted more from Hui becoming a charioteer as well, but I believe we will see the fruits of that in the next novel.

I liked watching Hui come so close to losing his true self. He was so sweetly naive until his family’s betrayal. Then he became a thief, a guard, a Little Rat, then a killer, and finally, in an amazing scene, a hardened captain.  Throughout the book Fareed, a scout, was a static character but acted as a soul mirror for Hui.  A running theme throughout the book was to find out how much humanity Hui retained through all his trials, and in another amazing scene Smith showed that through it all Hui never did lose his true self.

Smith is not an author for inner monologue but Hui is a fairly deep and interesting character.

Tanus and Taita, well, all I can say is go read the other Ancient Egypt books.

Tim Holland wrote a great afterward to provide a broad historical context for the characters, and I almost wish it had been presented as a forward.  It makes sense that with thousands of years of peace and prosperity, Egypt felt pretty invincible.

The other thing that makes these books seem so realistic is how well Smith brings the climate, setting, and mood of the populace into play: whether in a baking desert, war-torn city, refugee camp, or Pharaoh’s palace, I feel like I can picture those sun burnt dripping slaves and sandstorm, midden heaps and incense, terrified citizens… For historical fiction and immersion these things always feel important to me

The only other thing I would have asked for was either section breaks or dates, because it was very hard to tell how much time was passing between major events and I feel like that information would have been helpful to the story.

Overall, not Smith’s best but another very solid book.  He is one of my auto buy authors.  Definitely and always recommend for HistFic readers and adventure lovers.

Categories
Biographies, Memoirs, Nonfiction Fiction General Fiction Historical Fiction

The First Christmas (ARC Review) by Stephen Mitchell

Thank you so much to St. Martin’s Essentials for the early reading copy of The First Christmas by Stephen Mitchell!

Have you read any books recently that made you think of something from a new angle?  Stripping away the lens of Catholicism through the decades, Mitchell takes em objective look at the Nativity and Annunciation as they may have actually looked. How would a traditional Jewish couple take the news? What about a simple shepherd or stressed innkeeper? He even lightens the mood by sharing the views of the Ox and Donkey in the stable.

Bookish Quick Facts:

  • Title: The First Christmas
  • Author: Stephen Mitchell
  • Publisher & Release: St. Martin’s Essentials, 11/02/21
  • Length: 224
  • Rate & Recommend: ⭐⭐⭐⚡ for interested readers, secular and non

Here is the description from Amazon:

In The First Christmas, Stephen Mitchell brings the Nativity story to vivid life as never before. A narrative that is only sketched out in two Gospels becomes fully realized here with nuanced characters and a setting that reflects the culture of the time. Mitchell has suffused the birth of Jesus with a sense of beauty that will delight and astonish readers.

In this version, we see the world through the eyes of a Whitmanesque ox and a visionary donkey, starry-eyed shepherds and Zen-like wise men, each of them providing a unique perspective on a scene that is, in Western culture, the central symbol for good tidings of great joy. Rather than superimposing later Christian concepts onto the Annunciation and Nativity scenes, he imagines Mary and Joseph experiencing the angelic message as a young Jewish woman and man living in the year 4 bce might have experienced it, with terror, dismay, and ultimate acceptance. In this context, their yes becomes an act of great moral courage.

Readers of every background will be enchanted by this startlingly beautiful reimagining of the Christmas tale.

It was fun to see which stories, psalms, passages Mitchell was pulling his ideas from as well as his own thoughts. Some of his interpretation was tangential and distracting but overall it was an interesting mix of story, analyzing, and asking the reader to reflect and think for themselves.

There is a running theme of finding God, light, hope, etc, inside yourself before finding Him in the outside world, which I can appreciate as a fact since it’s one’s own lens that shapes their world view.

The one fascinating point that I hope makes it to the final copy, is where a character separated his hurtful and angry thoughts into a separate entity and simply said “no” to them. This idea of separating certain lies that one’s brain tells them, like an outside evil, is a fairly new concept to me but I’m interested!

Some parts were pretty far out there, but I’m comfortable recommending this one to interested readers, whether secular or non, for a well described tale of the times and journey of personal reflection on your own beliefs as well.

Thank you again endlessly to the publisher for my free review copy, all opinions are my own!

Categories
audiobooks Historical Fiction Horror Paranormal Young Adult

The Diviners (Book/Audiobook thoughts) by Libba Bray

Lo and behold I finally read a book this month! The Diviners by Libba Bray is a great fall or Halloween time of the year pick.  The frights and gore and level of creepiness probably make this YA paranormal read appropriate for age 16+, but would not recommend for younger kids!

Bookish Quick Facts:

  • Title: The Diviners
  • Series: The Diviners, #1
  • Author: Libba Bray
  • Publisher & Release: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers – September 2012
  • Length: 578 pgs
  • Rate & Recommend: ⭐⭐⭐⭐ for fans of paranormal, 1920s, creepy vibes and darker themes

Here is the book blurb:

A young woman discovers her mysterious powers could help catch a killer in the first book of The Diviners series–a stunning supernatural historical mystery set in 1920s New York City, from Printz Award-winning and New York Times bestselling author Libba Bray.

Evangeline O’Neill has been exiled from her boring old hometown and sent off to the bustling streets of New York City–and she is ecstatic. It’s 1926, and New York is filled with speakeasies, Ziegfeld girls, and rakish pickpockets. The only catch is that she has to live with her uncle Will and his unhealthy obsession with the occult. Evie worries he’ll discover her darkest secret: a supernatural power that has only brought her trouble so far.

When the police find a murdered girl branded with a cryptic symbol and Will is called to the scene, Evie realizes her gift could help catch a serial killer. As Evie jumps headlong into a dance with a murderer, other stories unfurl in the city that never sleeps. And unknown to all, something dark and evil has awakened…

Audiobook note: it is slightly over 18 hours of listening time, narrated by January LaVoy. Published by Listening Library in 2012.  LaVoy is a freaking amazing narrator, she has to cover everything from flappers to demons to jazz musicians and totally nails it

“Your mother and I do not approve of drinking. Have you not heard of the Eighteenth Amendment?”

“Prohibition? I drink to it’s health whenever I can”

Ok so this book, AND the audio, both have truly creepy vibes at times.  It is a chonker but for the most part extremely quick paced and a lot of fun to both read and listen to. I felt the danger while they were investigating the murders and dealing with the spirit!

There is a lot of 1920s slang that was a little annoying, and I don’t know if it’s authentic or not.  Evie and Sam, Jericho, Theta, Memphis, Will, they were all great characters with their own arcs of trauma, self acceptance, and skills to bring to the table. Their back stories were interesting, sad and dark.  There were a lot of characters but no one was wasted. I just docked a star because I was not buying the romance at the end, at all, it happened pretty  quick and just didn’t feel real

“People will believe anything if it means they can go on with their lives and not have to think too hard about it.”

The mystery itself seemed dark for YA, but unique and I loved it.  A demon? Spirit? Ghost? Is acting out the 12 offerings in a sacred text to become the prophesied beast, reign hellfire, reshape the Earth.  It results in bloody murders across NYC that Evie is in a unique position to help solve

How do you invent a religion?” Evie asked.

Will looked over the top of his spectacles. “You say, ‘God told me the following,’ and then wait for people to sign up.”

I was thinking about the concept of having to banish/kill the spirit on his own terms, as in the legend/religion/prophecy becomes true because it’s believed, or is fuelled by beliefs. I see that theme in paranormal and mythology texts lot, and then got to laughing because in a Christmas eve homily about 10 years ago the priest said something like “it’s true because we believe it” — and we all looked at each other saying “no, we believe it because it’s true, not vice versa” lol.

Now I am stuck on this whole belief vs truth thing.  It is a huge theme in the book and an interesting one for that YA age to ponder

“People tend to think that hate is the most dangerous emotion. But love is equally dangerous,” Will said. “There are many stories of spirits haunting the places and people who meant the most to them. In fact, there are more of those than there are revenge stories.

So yeah, this is a book/audio that I’d definitely  recommend for those who like sassy female leads, paranormal, mysteries, life in the 20s, and all that.  Some tough themes are handled like death, violence, corpse and live body mutilation, confronting dead parents, religious zealotry, a kitty is killed for a ritual 😭 and implied sexual thoughts, but 16+ should be fine!

Are you reading any spooky books yet this fall!?

Categories
Fiction Historical Fiction

ARC Review: Legacy of War by Wilbur Smith

Hi everyone! I have been taking some time away from bookish media and just focusing on life, spring cleaning, and reading some older books from my home library!

Legacy of War is the 19th book in the Courtney series, publishing on April 15th, so it seems like a good time to chat about this amazing book.  Thank you so much to Bookish First and Zaffre Books for my copy in exchange for an honest review!

Quick Facts:

  • Title: Legacy of War
  • Series: Courtney #19 (**can be read as a standalone**)
  • Author: Wilbur Smith
  • Publisher & Release: Zaffre, 4/15/21
  • Length: 417 pages
  • Rate & Recommend: 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟 yes for fans of unapologetically gritty Histfic

Here is the synopsis from Amazon:

A nail-biting story of courage, bravery, rebellion and war from the master of adventure fiction.

The war is over, Hitler is dead – and yet his evil legacy lives on. Saffron Courtney and her beloved husband Gerhard only just survived the brutal conflict, but Gerhard’s Nazi-supporting brother, Konrad, is still free and determined to regain power. As a dangerous game of cat-and-mouse develops, a plot against the couple begins to stir. One that will have ramifications throughout Europe. . .

Further afield in Kenya, the last outcrop of the colonial empire is feeling the stirrings of rebellion. As the situation becomes violent, and the Courtney family home is under threat, Leon Courtney finds himself caught between two powerful sides – and a battle for the freedom of a country.

This is Historical fiction at it’s best, and not for the faint of heart! I love Smith because he has absolutely no filter, and I will continue to read anything he writes. This installment happens after the end of WWII, and the hunt for Gerhard’s Nazi Officer brother in on. Meanwhile, in Kenya, the Mau Mau rebellion is starting and the Courtney estate tribes are right in the war zone. Are they loyal enough to resist the uprising??

To touch on the series: this is, I believe, the third and final Saffron and Gerhard book (or maybe they are more of a duology, I’m not sure) but there is enough background given to read the end of their story as a standalone.  Enough new things are revealed that readers new and old will be in love with this pair and the Courtney family.

This is an absolutely brutal and brutally exciting novel! All of the Courtney family books seem to have this gritty accuracy and I love them so freaking much.  There does tend to be some gratuitous violence and murder, but these sadistic things happened in real life and I think they add to the nail-biting-ness of the novel.

This book, like the rest, is fast paced and unapologetic (but Saffron and Gerhard do apologize in their own sweet ways). Between the hair raising race to track down Konrad and the methods of the Mau Mau – chopped up babies, anyone? I couldn’t put this book down! Real historical figures like Jomo Kenyatta, Dior, Wangari, and a few others are present as well. Some events and people are given fictional names but mirror real life events, such as the broad daylight assassination of a chief in his vehicle.

Leon is an amazing character as well and I loved his friendship with the Kikuru chieftain.  The Courtney family dynamics are so just wonderful. I was thoroughly choked up at the end of the novel but I think Smith brought this era to a wonderful conclusion.  I have to wonder though – with the WWII storyline at a close and the Courtneys in Kenya kind of on their way out…will there be more books?

Do you like histfic? Have you read Wilbur Smith!?

Categories
Crime Historical Fiction Mysteries Suspense

Book Review: Germania by Harald Gilbers

Thank you so much to Thomas Dunne Books & St Martin’s Press for the lovely finished copy of Germania in exchange for an honest review! All opinions are my own!

I would start by profusely apologizing for my turnover time on this book, reading has been a little bit impossible as my work schedule still averages 4-5 12hr nights a week! The good news is: this is my last back logged book!! Literally all my books now are publishing in February or later! Yay for small victories and let’s hope the pandemic winds down soon so the hospital can go back to normal

Anyway anyway, without further adieu..

Quick Facts:

  • Title: Germania
  • Series: Richard Oppenheimer #1
  • Author: Harald Gilbers (tr. Alexandra Roesch)
  • Publisher & Release: Thomas Dunne Books, December 2020
  • Length: 348 pg
  • Rate & Recommend: 🌟🌟🌟⚡ yes for mystery/investigative/WWII fans!

Here is the synopsis from GoodReads:

From international bestselling author Harald Gilbers comes the heart-pounding story of Jewish detective Richard Oppenheimer as he hunts for a serial killer through war-torn Nazi Berlin in Germania.

Berlin 1944: a serial killer stalks the bombed-out capital of the Reich, preying on women and laying their mutilated bodies in front of war memorials. All of the victims are linked to the Nazi party. But according to one eyewitness account, the perpetrator is not an opponent of Hitler’s regime, but rather a loyal Nazi.

Jewish detective Richard Oppenheimer, once a successful investigator for the Berlin police, is reactivated by the Gestapo and forced onto the case. Oppenheimer is not just concerned with catching the killer and helping others survive, but also his own survival. Worst of all, solving this case is what will certainly put him in the most jeopardy. With no other choice but to further his investigation, he feverishly searches for answers, and a way out of this dangerous game.

In Germania, Richard Oppenheimer used to be a detective for the Berlin police, but as a Jew under Hitler he is now forced to work a menial job. One SS agent is stumped when a serial killer starts leaving desecrated bodies in front of WW1 memorials, and he consults (forces) Oppenheimer to help catch the killer. Amidst air raids and bombs and constant fear of death in the rubble of Berlin, Oppenheimer and Vogler try to solve this case.

The setting felt so real as well with rubble strewn streets, frequent rain fall, bombed out buildings, and foreigners from everywhere.  It ties in perfectly with the blackouts, oppressive and depressing overall atmosphere of the book.

So much danger, whether from the constant air strikes, Hitler’s regime, or a truly brutal killer, makes this a quietly exciting mystery.  Oppenheimer is clever and an observant investigator, so many pages are spent as he puzzles out the case to his new boss, Vogler.   Some thoroughly brutal descriptions of desecration were enough to really give me the chills about this killer.

I liked the characters too, Richard knows that his life is hanging by a thread but he still feels the thrill of being back on the case.  He is an inherently good person.  I think Vogler is too, he would never admit it but he sticks his neck out for Oppenheimer quite a bit and has at least a small streak of humanity.  I would have liked a little more from the killer – they had a few paragraphs here and there but it was hard to tell when he was the one being featured, and the glimpses were small! I think he had a good and believable arc to insanity though.

As he is investigating, Oppenheimer learns that he is not being told all the facts.  That says, he does a phenomenal job with what he is given.  It’s definitely more of a literary investigative mystery than a thriller, although some parts are exciting.  I don’t know much about German history at all so it was also interesting to read about landmarks, architecture, and some of Hitler’s less than popular Aryan breeding and spy schemes.

It is also my first German translated book.  I don’t think a lot of German words and phrases translate well, which created some blocky language and curious phrases at times, but not enough to affect enjoyment.  Gilbers is a history proficient theater writer, so I felt like I was getting an accurate portrayal of Nazi politics as well as a dramatic and depressing atmosphere.

I definitely couldn’t figure out why the party cared so much about one murderer… But… You’ll find out why when you read it!

I took the 1.5 stars off for the book being a little anticlimactic – I think Oppenheimer should have been more present during the criminal apprehensions, but his role was only to figure out who did it. Also without knowing the German history I had to look up quite a few abbreviations, and lord knows that German words are a mouthful to pronounce. All the points for setting and atmosphere though and for the characters.

I think this is a wonderfully human mystery and would recommend to anyone interested!

Categories
General Fiction Historical Fiction Literary Fiction

ARC Review: The Arsonists’ City by Hala Alyan

Thanks so much to Bookish First and HMH (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) for the advanced copy of The Arsonists’ City in exchange for an honest review! All opinions are my own.

This is an extremely rich and nuanced look into family, life, heritage, and identity, but I struggled with whether or not to feature this one on the blog.  I try really hard to stick to cleaner content these days and there are more than a few mature sexual situations & adultery in this one, but there’s also a discourse on humanity, immigration, and reconciliation that as a 30-something, I could appreciate, and hey, we are all adults here.

Quick Facts:

  • Title: The Arsonists’ City
  • Author: Hala Alyan
  • Publisher & Release: HMH, 03/09/21
  • Length: 464 pages
  • Rate & Recommend: 🌟🌟🌟 yes for fans of the genre

Here is the synopsis from GoodReads:

A rich family story, a personal look at the legacy of war in the Middle East, and an indelible rendering of how we hold on to the people and places we call home

The Nasr family is spread across the globe—Beirut, Brooklyn, Austin, the California desert. A Syrian mother, a Lebanese father, and three American children: all have lived a life of migration. Still, they’ve always had their ancestral home in Beirut—a constant touchstone—and the complicated, messy family love that binds them. But following his father’s recent death, Idris, the family’s new patriarch, has decided to sell.

The decision brings the family to Beirut, where everyone unites against Idris in a fight to save the house. They all have secrets—lost loves, bitter jealousies, abandoned passions, deep-set shame—that distance has helped smother. But in a city smoldering with the legacy of war, an ongoing flow of refugees, religious tension, and political protest, those secrets ignite, imperiling the fragile ties that hold this family together.

I was originally interested in this book because allegedly my grandfather was a random Syrian exchange student’s brother, and I sometimes feel interested in Syrian books assuming he came from the actual motherland.

So let’s just discuss content first because it’ s the first thing that anyone reading the book encounters.  A man is murdered in the prologue, and it sets the whole book up to be super dramatic and interesting and I am thinking “oh boy this is going to be good!!”  Then the next thing you know one of the characters is on her stomach thinking about a deflated condom, like, shit.  So now I have to remember her depressing sex life throughout the rest of the book, and it’s a theme through all the characters’ chapters, including a heavy discussion of the gay sibling’s sexuality, which is tied to Beirut’s youth culture in general somehow. Between that and pretty much everyone either contemplating or committing adultery at some point, I am like… Well sex is not what I want to read, and it’s depressing.

But it’s part of life, which along with death, are major themes of the book.  Idris and Mazna immigrated to America on asylum when he started his surgical residency, leaving his ancestral house behind.  Years later once Idris’ father dies and the house is empty of family he decides to sell it – which brings the scattered family all back together.  In Beirut.  For one very enlightening summer.

Each of the three siblings and Mazna the mother, were the chapter points of view. This sorted into the present (the kids) and past (Mazna).  It is always interesting to see people struggle bus through their 30s in slice of life style, because that’s me, but a big part of me just didn’t care.  Mazna’s story was legitimately interesting with her life between Damascus and Beirut, and seeing the war, plus being brown in America once they immigrated.  None of the characters were really likeable for me though, like I wanted to like Mazna but she’s so stubborn and then hooked up with that film guy, plus she took Idris (a heart surgeon) for a total moron.

The book spent a LOT of time building each character. It is kind of the point of the book, but some parts involving the siblings were just boring to me.  I didn’t care about Marwan’s band or Ava’s cheating husband, or even Naj, even though she had the most interesting life by far it was all flings and drugs and music. Once they got to Beirut and all the secrets started coming out, it got more interesting.  

There were so many side characters mentioned too that I just couldn’t keep track… Many of them not horribly relevant but still.  Also I liked Alyan’s writing style and language use overall but occasionally just lost her train of thought.  She would get philosophical/ profound at times and drift off into left field to the point where I had no idea where the train of thought ended up.

One thing that I thought Alyan did really well was setting – she gave a good feel for the sights and smells and weather, food, even the knick knacks in rooms, plus the atmosphere in general. 

I can relate a lot of the book to real life though – for example – being entitled to our secrets, and maybe not needing to know all of our parent’s secrets.  Also learning that we (as adults) are maybe a little bit more like them than we like to admit.

I know this is a book that a lot of people are loving for Alyan’s fantastic writing style and the story of love, loss, immigration, and familial reconciliation that she tells, and I don’t blame them at all. I think fans of the genre will love this. I just found it to be a 12 day long snooze fest when the kids were featured and I was limited to one rather long chapter at a time.

Overall: definitely recommend for fans of family dramas, sagas, and character based books!