Book Review: Girl in the River by Patricia Kullberg

I’ve not been reading or reviewing as much as I normally do. Life has that funny habit of ensuring that some times are so busy that all you want to do at the end of a day is sleep.

I was sent this book ages ago by Mindbuck Media and I feel awful that I took this long to read it.

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Mae Rose has been living with her mother. She had clues that everything wasn’t quite normal in her family when she found herself not being allowed to be friends with other kids. As she grew up, she realised why, her mother was a prostitute. She wanted to be nothing like her mother, but orphaned at 16, life pushes her into her m0ther’s world.

Set in the Portland of 1950s, a city controlled by criminals and crime, Mae Rose’s life reflects the turbulent times that it was. 16 year old Mae Rose, newly orphaned, when her mother dies from a botched abortion, suddenly realises how unsafe the city can be for girls like her. All she wants is some work, but realises all too soon that young girls like her are preyed upon. She ends up learning the hard way, and then decides to play unsafe on her own terms. 

The story brings underbelly of the city, funded by gangsters hand in hand with the corrupt city officials, it was the girls on the street who bore the brunt of it. The story features two real people from that era, Dr Ruth Barnett, the famous abortionist and Dorothy Lee, the anti-vice crusader who came down heavily on corruption. Mae Rose’s story is woven beautifully with the happenings at that time. 

It was a book that needs to be read. A book with so much insight into those times. A book I would definitely recommend. It also has the most charming and unlikeliest of romances, one I found very sweet, and yet doesn’t detract from the tale being narrated at all, which is far from sweet. A 4.5/5 book for me. A book that will stay with me.

About the author

A doctor and a historical fiction writer, Kullberg brings both areas of her expertise together in her writing. Based out of Portland, This is her first book, with others in the offing.

The book is available from Amazon(UK).

Book Review: The Confectioner’s Tale by Laura Madeleine

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It is March 1980, and Petra Stevenson has been struggling to complete her thesis in Cambridge. She comes across a biography being written about her grandfather, J. G. Stevenson, when she discovers that this biography less of a biography more of an attempt to scandal monger. There is something in his past that she had been unaware of, something for which he seems to have been desperately apologetic. Desperate to prevent the efforts to tarnish her beloved grandfather’s memory, she starts digging into the past.

Petra is consumed by the mystery and the need to ensure that her grandfather is not maligned, she refuses to believe that he grandfather would do something dishonorable, but does she really know her grandfather? If he were so honorable, why is there a photograph of her grandfather with two others in front of the Patisserie Clermont? Why did he write ‘Forgive Me’ on the back of the photograph? Petra’s thesis and academic career are all ignored as she goes hunting.

In 1909, Guillaume du Frere found himself forced to leave Bordeaux and move to Paris to find a way of making money. That was the only way he could support himself and his widowed mother. With no money for even food, Gui and his friend Nicolas, survived the journey and managed to land themselves a job in the railways.

A chance encounter with the daughter of the owner of the famous Patisserie Clermont, gives Gui a glimpse into a life he couldn’t even have dreamt about. He gets a chance to deliver supplies to the bakery. Not only is he captivated by the beautiful Jeanne Clermont, he is equally captivated by the life in the bakery. The art of shaping gorgeous, melt in the mouth delicacies, the fragrances that dominate, the sweet smell of sugar, the heady smell of chocolate, everything seems magical to him. Fate gives him an opportunity to work in the bakery, and he soon discovers that not only is he unusually talented at baking, he thoroughly enjoys it too. To add to his joy, Jeanne is also equally captivated by him.

Life is as good as it could get for Gui and Jeanne. As all good things, the good times don’t last and reality and life is about to take over. At some point, Petra’s grandfather’s path crossed Gui and Jeanne. How and what exactly happened is something Petra must find out, if she wants to keep her grandfather’s memory untarnished, convinced as she is that he certainly wasn’t capable of doing things he was being accused of.

A beautiful book. The author did a beautiful job detailing Paris of 1909, the lives of Gui and Jeanne, expertly bringing out the differences in their circumstances. Gui, cold, hungry and desperate, Jeanne, living in the lap of luxury, never having known the lack of anything, and yet desperate in her own way. I particularly like books where the atmosphere, the times that the characters are based in, is brought out so well. Petra’s circumstances and situation was equally well portrayed. One can feel her anguish, the need to prove the biographer wrong, knowing that her grandfather was being maligned just for the sake of publicity, while knowing that she really didn’t have the luxury of time to investigate, knowing that she was being foolhardy to pursue this, when she had been warned of the consequences of her actions on her academic career.

The story, for me was as much about Petra as it is about Gui, the confectioner. While on about confectioners, the descriptions of pastry being made, made me want to bake. I had to stop myself from looking up the recipe of religieuse. A beautiful book, one that I could recommend to so many people, those who like a good historical fiction, those who like food writing, or just those who like a good descriptive book with a great plot. A 4.5/5 read for me.

On a side note, did you like the cover? I loved it! It was the cover that drew me to the book in the first place. And I’m glad it did too!

Thank you Netgalley and the publishers for the ARC of this book.

About the Author
The Confectioner’s Tale is author Laura Madeleine’s debut book.

This book is available from Amazon(UK).

Book Review: Secrets of the Tower by Debbie Rix

I got offered a chance to review this book, and given that it was historical fiction, I grabbed it.

I still find it difficult to believe that there was a time when I used to find history boring. I couldn’t stand it, while in school. It took Philippa Gregory’s books to make a convert of me.

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Two women, centuries apart, bound together by the secrets of one of the most iconic buildings ever created.

Pisa, 1999
Sam Campbell sits by her husband’s hospital bed. Far from home and her children, she must care for Michael who is recovering from a stroke. A man she loves deeply. A man who has been unfaithful to her.

Alone and in need of distraction, Sam decides to pick up Michael’s research into the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Immersing herself in the ancient city, she begins to piece together the mystery behind the creation of the tower, and discovers the woman who history forgot…

Pisa, 1171
Berta di Bernardo, the wife of a rich merchant, sits in her chamber, dressing for a dinner party. A gathering that will change the course of her life and a young master mason, Gerardo, forever.

A strong, intelligent woman, Berta’s passion for architecture also draws her closer to Gerardo. As she embarks on a love affair, her maid Aurelia also becomes spellbound by the same man. Yet for Berta, her heart’s desire is to see the Tower built, and her determination knows no bounds…

The author has done an interesting take on the mysteries surrounding the Leaning Tower of Pisa, while interweaving it with the life of a modern woman in 1999. Pisa in the 12th Century comes alive in Rix’s words. The details of everyday life at that time is beautifully narrated. You are transported into Berta’s life and city and then just as quickly, you are back in modern-day Pisa as Sam goes about with her day, trying hard to find out more about the elusive architect that designed the monument. The one thing in common in both times being the turmoil of human emotions. The emotions that could change the tide of our lives, our motivator in so many ways.

A well researched, well written book about two strong women characters. I especially love reading about strong women in history, especially when the society didn’t allow for it. Berta was one such character. I particularly like the fact that she wasn’t a black and white character. She was admirable, strong and also quite annoying in some ways, or just real, in other words. Sam was a character I could identify with.

If I have a complaint about this book, it would be that some ‘complications’ were resolved a bit too easily.

A 3.5/5 read for me. One that I would recommend to those who enjoy historical fiction.

Thank you Bookouture for the review copy of this book.


About the Author

began her career at the BBC where she was a presenter on BBC’s Breakfast Time before moving to present a variety of factual programmes. She is now a Communications Consultant, specialising in the charitable sector.

 

Secrets of the Tower is inspired by Debbie’s own story: her husband, a television producer, had a stroke whilst making a film for Channel 4 about the Leaning Tower of Pisa in the 1990s. The novel also reflects her love of architecture – an interest which is hard-wired into her DNA as both her parents were architects. Many of the historical characters featured are based on real people.

This book is available from Amazon (UK).

Book Review: The Dance of the Spirits by Catherine Aerie

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Another book tour by Sage. I have to be honest, this book took a little time before it could capture my interest at all. There was a point where I was wondering if I should email Sage and let her know that I wouldn’t be able to review it. Thankfully, the story did pick up and I did get through the book.

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Jasmine Young is a Chinese woman, part of the Korean War, one of the few to have volunteered into it, unlike most others. Born into a rich and privileged family, Jasmine had the best of education and had not known the lack of anything until her mother died and changed everything for her and her family.

Personal circumstances weren’t the only things that changed for Jasmine. Soon the political climate changed too and circumstances landed her right into the war. Jasmine had just completed her medical training and her first opportunity to work as a doctor is in the war. The book is the touching story of Jasmine as she lives through the horrible war, when people lose love, belongings, and most of all dignity and liberty.

The book is interesting in parts, but in some sections I found it hard to keep reading. Especially the descriptions of war. I suppose it must just be me. All the descriptions of bloodshed and wounded people was a bit too much for me. However given that the book revolves around a medic in a war, it makes sense. I did feel that the author tends to be over descriptive. I love descriptions normally, of the sort that transport you into the places which they talk about, in this book however, it was a struggle. I struggled to read them through.

The snippets of history that the author provides gives a nice context to what is happening in the book. Given that I was completely ignorant about the political situation surrounding the war, it made sense. The class hierarchy and the huge class divide in China that helped in welcoming a Communist wave is brought out very well. I also enjoyed Jasmine’s childhood and the account of her life before the war. It gave us an insight into Jasmine as a person.

Some books are not for you, unfortunately. This was one of those. A book that might well appeal to others, but a book that I struggled to read. A 2.5/5 for me.

I got this book in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.

About the Author

Catherine Aerie, a graduate from the University of California, Irvine with a master degree in finance. She was inspired to write ‘The Dance of Spirits’ while researching a family member’s role in the Korean War, deciding to revive an often overlooked setting in fiction and heighten the universality go love and liberty. Her debut novel was completed after about two years of research.

This book is available from Amazon.

Book Review: Nefertiti by Michelle Moran

This was one of TGND recoed books. She had recommended this book to me ages ago. I had downloaded it on my Kindle and somehow had completely forgotten about it. It remained at the bottom of my pile of books on my Kindle. Until a couple of weeks ago, when I was browsing through my to-reads on Goodreads and realized that I had forgotten about Nefertiti waiting to be read.

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The book is through the eyes of Mutnodjmet, Nefertiti’s step sister. Nefertiti and Mutnodjmet belong to one of the most powerful families of Egypt. The family that has provided the queens of Egypt. Their aunt Tiye is the current queen of Egypt and she is on the look out for a wife for her son. Her son Amunhotep, is a wilful prince. They need a wife to rein him in, and change his rather different views, especially his religious views. The prince is very different from his father, and will go to any extent to prove it. The queen wants to choose a wife for him who will do what she wants and change Amunhotep’s views and ideas. Nefertiti’s father convinces his sister, Queen Tiye, that Nefertiti is the perfect person to reign in and control Amunhotep. The fact that Nefertiti is stunningly beautiful and charismatic helps.

Soon Nefertiti is married to Amunhotep and Mutnodjmet and her parents move to Thebes. Nefertiti’s family quickly realise that charismatic as she was, Nefertiti was quite unlikely to do anything to anger her husband. Instead of controlling the prince, she encourages him, as she would do anything to prevent him from making his older wife, the ‘Chief Wife’. Wrought by worry and knowing that the only way, she can survive is by not doing anything to earn the pharaoh’s anger or displeasure, Nefertiti does things that change life not just for her, but also for the rest of her country.

Encouraged by her support Amunhotep turns against the ancient gods and the powerful priests of temples and sets up a new god, Aten, for Egypt to worship. While Amunhotep’s seemingly boundless generosity did make the people happy, it was at the cost of other important things like keeping Egypt’s borders safe. And the Pharaoh and his Chief wife had made plenty of enemies who were just waiting for a chance to strike. The glamour and power of her life has made Nefertiti blind to the obvious. In Nefertiti’s circle, there was just one person who was honest and yet loyal to her – Mutnodjmet.

The book is chronicled through Mutnodjmet’s eyes. It is not just the story of Nefertiti and her life, but also the story of Egypt as well as Mudnodjmet. Full of intrigue and the games that the powerful play, it is an interesting take on what must have been royal life in those days. The role of religion and how integral a part it was, of life in those times. A tale that brings a queen from long ago, alive for us. A fascinating book I would definitely recommend, if you like historical fiction. As usual, it made me browse the net in an effort to learn a little more about those times, and found out that my daughter knew more about Ancient Egypt than I did! Anyway. A 4/5 from me.

About the Author

Michelle Moran is a native of southern California. She attended Pomona College, then earned a Masters Degree from the Claremont Graduate University. During her six years as a public high school teacher, Michelle used her summers to travel around the world, and it was her experiences as a volunteer on archaeological digs that inspired her to write historical fiction.

This book is available from Amazon(UK).

Book Review: Those who save us by Jenna Blum

This was a Goodreads recommendation. It had been a while since I went on to the recommendations section. This book looked interesting and I was delighted to find it in the library that very day.

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The book opens with Trudy rushing back home after her father died. Her mother and Trudy were cold shouldered by their neighbours. Trudy shows that she knew that she and her mother were only tolerated because of her father. It made you wonder why and as the story unfolds, it becomes clear why.

Trudy and her mother were rescued from Germany by an American soldier at the end of the war. Trudy’s mother never says anything about their life in Germany during the war. Her silence has always weighed heavily on Trudy. She just remembers bits and pieces from her life before they came to America. The only link she has to the life before they came to America is an old photograph, but her mother refuses to say a word about it. Trudy has no idea what happened or why her mother refuses to talk about the past. The past that she has no idea about hangs heavily about her. Unable to piece together the pieces of history that she does remember has been a life long nightmare for Trudy. A past she knows nothing about, coming from a country which was responsible for one of the most horrendous crimes in History and knowing that juist being German condemned her in the minds of a lot of people around her, was a baggage she carried around. Her mother’s silence just compounded the collective guilt of her people that Trudy carried with her.

Now, years later,as a professor of German Studies, she gets an opportunity to understand the role of women in the Nazi times. She sets up a project to interview women of her mother’s generation and understand the role of women in Nazi Germany.

The book goes back and forth into Anna’s(Trudy’s mother) life as well as the Trudy’s life in the present. As the story unfolds, we get to see the war and it’s effects on another set of people. The German women left behind in the villages and towns, who had to survive a war that was brutal in other ways for them. The other side of the fence had its own story. The things people did, in times that demanded it from them.

I hesitated to start it, wondering if it would be a bit too heavy, but once I started it, it was impossible to put it down. The tale gripped me, refusing to let go until the last word was read. It was not the most pleasant read, and yet, the author keeps it from becoming a depressing read. The blurb said

Those who save is a profound exploration of what we endure to survive and the legacy of shame

I couldn’t put it better. I book that opened my eyes to another facet of the war. A war that had such huge consequences, and survivors that might actually still be carrying the scars. Some physical, some psychological, some because of their actions, some because of what others did.. A book worth reading. A 4.5/5 from me.

About the Author
Jenna Blum is an American writer notable for her novels Those Who Save Us and The Stormchasers. She is regarded as an authority on the subject of fiction writing and in 2013 was selected by the Modern Scholar series to teach an audio lecture course entitled The Author at Work: The Art of Writing Fiction.In addition, Blum leads novelists as part of the Grub Street writing center, a Boston-based workshop for writers.She was named as a favorite woman writer by Oprah magazine.

This book is available from Amazon(UK).

Book Review: Necessary Lies by Diane Chamberlain

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Can the best of intentions be enough justifications for taking decisions for someone else? And what if it’s done in an official way?

Set in America Forrester os an idealistic young woman. Fresh out of college, newly married and just starting her new job as a social worker. Her job takes her to Grace County, one of the most impoverished areas, where people most needed help from the authorities. One of the first families that she meets are the Harts. Ivy and Mary Hart are sisters who live with their aging grandmother and Mary’s two-year old son Baby William. Sixteen year old Ivy, an epileptic seems to be the responsible one, the one who seems to be taking care and keeping an eye on Mary, Baby William and her Grandma’s medications. Mary seems intellectually disabled and so does Baby William.

As Jane, gets involved with the Hart family as part of her job, she realizes that she is unable to keep herself from being emotionally involved. She also discovers some shocking facts about the Eugenics program that is ongoing. Women and girls who are seen to be likely to have children and not be in a position to raise the children, are sterilized by the state. Any excuse would work, some are deemed ‘feeble-minded or marginal’, some are labeled, ‘promiscuous’ anything that could be considered an excuse to prevent these impoverished people from having more children. The social workers were responsible for writing up a petition and getting it done. The worst part of the process is that some of the people who are made to undergo the process are not even aware of it, like Mary. She believes that she had an appendix operation after Baby William was born. She dreams of having 5 babies, oblivious to the fact that she can no longer have any more babies.

Jane is soon faced with a decision she doesn’t want to make. A decision she doesn’t feel, that they as social workers, should be making, in the first place. She faces trouble at work for challenging status quo. Her co-workers are annoyed with her stance and also by her refusal to back down.

Jane’s work is not the only area where the waters are tumultuous. Her marriage seems to be in trouble as well. Her new husband, Robert seems to have very different expectations from his wife that he had with his girlfriend. He is not very happy with her job, the fact that she has to go into the homes of people very poor, or even worse, black. He is unhappy with the fact that she chooses to work, he feels that it is demeaning for him to tell people that his wife is working. He wishes she could be happy with volunteering or pick up a job that is more ‘suitable’. Jane, on the other hand, has ideas of her own, aspirations of her own, and it doesn’t help that all of Robert’s friend’s wives seem to have taken an instant dislike to her. Jane is struggling to manage her husband’s expectations and try to do her best for her clients.

Things come to a head when a certain turn of fate changes the course of events drastically. Suddenly, Jane is faced with a situation where she is suddenly all alone and helpless, and yet she is the only one who can save Ivy from the fate that stares at her.

What a impactful book it was! The book transports you back to the time when Eugenics Program was accepted and people saw no harm in it. They never thought twice about the fact that they were taking control of other people’s lives without even checking with them. It is a spine chilling story, fictional, but something that could have/must have happened to so many people in those times. The Eugenics Program was apparently a social program, designed to weed out ‘undesirable’ traits in the human race. Sounds similar to what happened in Germany, doesn’t it? I guess it’s not surprising to read that Eugenics program was inspiration for what happened in Germany. Apparently, this continued in America from the 1920s till the 1970s. It is unbelievable to think that people actually did this and endorsed it.

I would definitely recommend this book. Not the easiest of books to read. Painful, and excruciatingly sad at times. it makes you wish and hope for Ivy and others like Ivy who don’t stand a chance in life. It makes you glad for people like Jane, who fought the system and made it stop. It is a heart-wrenching read, but still a great read. It ends with hope, hope for a future where people will hopefully not treat others less privileged or less able in this way.

A 5/5 book for me. It’s a tought read, but well worth it, if you ask me.

About the author
Award-winning author Diane Chamberlain, was born and raised in Plainfield, New Jersey, and attended Glassboro State University. She also lived for many years in both San Diego and northern Virginia, where she still resides. She is an author of 22 novels. She usually writes about relationships between men and women, parents and children, brothers and sisters, and friends.

This book is available from Amazon(UK) and Flipkart(India).