Saturday, January 13, 2018

Review: Daughters of the Night Sky by Aimie K. Runyan

As soon as I heard about this book, I knew I had to read it. Female pilots in the Red Army during WWII - that sort of satisfies everything I love in a book: strong women, Russian history, WWII setting.

For the most part, I loved this book. It drew me in immediately. The story is about a pilot, Katya, who was training to be a pilot before the war started. She then joins the Red Army and is part of group of women who became known by the Germans as "Night Witches" because they bombed German camps at night. I know nothing about piloting or navigating planes, but felt this story described the process well enough that I understood what was happening, without feeling overwhelmed with details.

One aspect of the book that I especially enjoyed was seeing how women were treated and how they handled finding themselves in what had previously been considered men's roles. Despite Stalin's support, they still had to deal with men not comfortable with seeing women being treated as equals. These were complex characters, with families and fears and ambitions, as well as insurmountable courage.

The action scenes are well written and exciting. Every time I picked this book up, I had a tough time putting it down. I was reading in the morning before work and during my lunch breaks, always dreading having to put the book away.

I read the entire last half in one sitting. And I continued to love the book, heartbreaking though parts of it were, up until near the end. As the story was progressing, the war was ending, and I was feeling hopeful for these characters, even after all the losses they'd suffered, and then something happened that upset me, that seemed unnecessary. I'm being vague because I don't want to spoil it for other readers - because even though I didn't like what happened, you all need to read this book.

Because this was based on true events, I thought at first that maybe the author had based this character on a real person so the author had no choice. But the author's note said the characters were fictional, and that she took liberties with the end, which was supposed to be a happy ending of sorts, but annoyed me. Sometimes, I think authors do things like this because they think it makes the story more serious or edgy. I don't know, maybe I just read too many books that have guaranteed happy endings. And as I said, this does have a happy ending, but not the one I had hoped for. The fact that I'm still so upset about this, two days after finishing the book, shows how well-developed these characters and this story was. I loved these characters and my heart is broken for them. I may as well admit, I cried through the last few chapters of this book, I felt that attached to this story. 

Anyway, I think this is a really great book. I highly recommend it if you are interested in stories set during WWII, and/or stories about interesting, strong women.

I received a copy of this via Netgalley. 

Monday, January 01, 2018

Review: Still Me by Jojo Moyes

This book is so good. As expected, parts of it made me laugh, made me furious, and made me cry.

I love Lou, so glad to return to her world and find out how she's doing, but part of this story infuriated me. I found myself thinking, all this time and she's learned nothing, she still lets people walk all over her, won't fight for what matters to her. This wasn't the life Will wanted for her, always putting other people's lives before her own. She's too nice, like pathetically self-destructively nice at one point. There were several times when bad things happened to her with regard to her relationship and her job and she just let them, did nothing to protect herself. I can't relate to that level of niceness, but, in the end, maybe her being nice is why things work out for her. Takes a very well written story and characters to make me feel so strongly about a book.

Things do eventually work out for her with regard to her relationship and her job.

In this story, Lou has taken a job in New York City, working as a personal assistant for a very wealthy man's new wife. (The wife reminded me of a rather well-known rich wife, and that bothered me because this was the last place where I wanted to be thinking about those people, but anyway. I imagine the description would apply to a lot of wealthy New York wives.) The couple is pretty awful and it upset me to see Lou in this position.

Also, Lou is still trying to maintain her relationship with "Ambulance Sam" and as you can imagine, that proves somewhat difficult. But this is Lou, and she makes things fun and interesting and sweet.

Overall, I loved the book. I imagine this is the last we'll hear of Lou, but I would gladly read more about it, because she really is a wonderful character.

I received a copy of this via Netgalley.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Review: Christmas in London by Anita Hughes

When I realized this was by the same author as Christmas in Paris, I probably should have stopped reading it. But I'm a sucker for a Christmas story set in London (or Paris for that matter).

As with Christmas in Paris, the setting is really nice. The author does a great job of describing the city. I've never been to London at Christmas, but it's one of my dreams and the author makes the setting sound magical. However, also like Christmas in Paris, the characters are, for the most part, not like able people and the relationships are not in any way desirable.

There are two relationships happening. One a brand new one, the other a couple reunited after many years apart. The women in the story were okay, but the men - why would anyone want to be with these men? The men are weak and whiny and have no respect for the women. It felt like in the end both women sort of thought, oh well, probably can't do much better, too busy with careers and all that, so may as well settle for these losers. I would have been much happier if both women had decided that the men weren't worth their trouble and decided to ditch them and continue to focus on their careers. I feel like their careers would be much more satisfying. As far as I could tell, there was absolutely nothing appealing about these men. I don't understand why any woman would want them.

As a romance, this didn't work for me, but I did enjoy the glimpse of London at Christmas.

I received a copy of this via Netgalley.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Review: The Women in the Castle by Jessica Shattuck

Took me a while to get into this story, but once I did, I found it interesting. But I didn't love it.

There were too many different story lines and points of views for me to ever feel any kind of a strong connection to the characters. These were women who had suffered during the war and endured horrible situations, and yet I didn't feel the full impact of what they'd been through. There were a few story lines that I wish had been more fully developed. I felt like there was a lot hinted at beneath the surface of their stories. I wanted to know more.

What I did like about the book though is that it focused on an aspect that I've not read much about - the women in Germany, after the war. Their husbands had died because they tried to stop Hitler. They're trying to rebuild their lives, with the men gone.

Overall, I liked this book, especially toward the end, but it didn't leave a strong impression on me.

I received a copy of this via Netgalley. 

Monday, October 09, 2017

Review: A Secret History of Witches by Louisa Morgan

A Secret History of WitchesA Secret History of Witches by Louisa  Morgan
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book was a bit infuriating. Took me almost a month to read - I am not usually a slow reader. But this story was not interesting in the beginning.

This is the story of several generations of witches. Each witch has a book. The first few books were boring and repetitive. Each woman has a very similar experience regarding her awareness of her powers as a witch, followed by her attempts to either win the affections of a man and/or have a child - specifically a daughter to carry on the family line of witches. But I don't know why they felt so compelled to continue the line when they never really used their powers to their benefit. They spent most of their time trying to keep it hidden away, and when it was discovered, it usually resulted in their ruin or death. I found that so frustrating. At one point, near the end of the book, a witch from another family says people have always feared their kind because they didn't need a man. If that's the case, why did they waste all their powers on seducing men who didn't want them? Why didn't they try to use their powers to protect themselves from people who wanted to hurt them or to improve their lives without the need of a man?

The first few parts of the book felt like an intro, a setup for some sort of action, so I kept reading, but then I was noticing I was almost halfway through the book, and still waiting for something to happen. I had to start skimming then because I was spending so much time on this book, and there are so many other books I want to read, but I felt like I'd spent too much time on it to just give up.

I'm glad i stuck with it, I ended up really liking, almost loving the last part of the story. That's Veronica's book. She's the last of her line, her mother died in childbirth and she knows nothing about the family history. I enjoyed reading about how she discovered her powers, and the way she was later about to use them. Hers was the only story that felt developed and had emotion. Her story had heart, romance and family. I thoroughly enjoyed the role she played in helping her country during WWII.

I think this would have been a wonderful book if it had focused on Veronica, and the lives of the women before her had been explained in more of a summary. Maybe have Veronica learn about them as she's learning about her own powers, through research of some sort or from viewing the crystal or the stories of other witches who may have been familiar with her family. The details of their lives were not essential, and almost caused me to give up on this book completely. This is why I felt this book was infuriating. The story, if told differently, could have been great and entertaining. But the format in which it's presented is not enjoyable at all. Those first few books read like a dry textbook, providing information about the women's lives, but not in a way that you care about them. There were touches of what could have been, but weren't.

I don't know that I can recommend this book, except to say, rush through the first parts as quickly as possible to get to the story at the end. The last part of the book is really good. That's why I'm giving this three stars - I think the last part would have been four or five stars, but the first, more like one or two - so I'm compromising with three.

I received a copy of this via NetGalley.

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Monday, August 21, 2017

Review: Monsoon Summer by Julia Gregson

When I read the description of this book, I was hoping for a big romance, spanning continents. Forbidden love, culture clashes and such.

And I suppose that exists in this story, but the manner in which it's written sort of downplays everything. This is the story about an English woman who falls in love with and marries and Indian doctor, shortly after India has gained independence from the English. They move to India, and his family is unhappy with his choice of a wife and she's regarded as something of an enemy in the community. Also, the fact that she wants to work as a midwife is frowned upon.

This story should have created all kinds of emotional reactions, but it didn't.

I never felt any strong connection with any of the characters. I was not shocked or concerned or upset when bad things happened - and a lot of bad things did happen. She's attacked, she's thrown in jail, she disgraces her husband's family, she had problems with her own family. But I never felt like we were allowed enough of a glimpse into the characters emotions to invoke any kind of a strong response.

The story was interesting, and I liked learning about this time period and location, because it isn't something with which I'm familiar. I was also interested in the way the women lived during this time and place. But it wasn't quite the grand, intense romance I'd hoped it would be. Maybe that's my fault for having false expectations. I wanted something to read at the end of the summer that would completely sweep me up into the story, and this wasn't it.

It is by no means a bad book. I just wanted something a bit more.

I received a review copy of this via NetGalley.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Book review update

I am so behind with my book reviews. Hoping to post a few more in the next few days.

Have recently read Alice Hoffman's Rules of Magic - loved it so much! It's the prequel to Practical Magic. Will have a review soon, hopefully.

Also received and read a review copy of Krysten Ritter's Bonfire. Really good book.

And for romance readers, I recently read the first two books in Jennifer Bernard's Jupiter Point series, Set the Night on Fire and Burn So Bright. All of her books are great, including these.

And, I finally got around to reading Amor Towles' Gentleman in Moscow. That I got from the library. Wonderful book, highly recommend it.

Anyway - if I can get my act together - I should have reviews for those and a few more in the next few days.