I switched to catching up on my YouTube subscriptions during lunch breaks (and some nights before bed), so I didn’t read quite as much as previous months. But look at that:
Seriously?! So close, and yet so far.
Oh, well, on with the show!
- Pastel Orphans* by Gemma Liviero
- The One I Was by Eliza Graham
- The Girl from Krakow: A Novel by Alex Rosenberg
I generally have no problem reading multiple books at a time BUT I did find it a little disconcerting when I was reading The One I Was and listening to Pastel Orphans at the same time. (Well, not at the same time exactly, but reading one at bedtime and listening to the other in the car–you know what I mean!)
Pastel Orphans is a story of a woman’s flight from Berlin with her 2 half-Jewish children to the countryside in Poland and all that follows. When the daughter, Greta, is kidnapped by German officers to be raised by a good German family (owing to her Aryan appearance), Henrik is determined to find where they’ve taken her and bring her home. The story is told mostly from his point of view, later we shift to narration from Rebekkah, one of the Partisans he meets with early on in his journey, and then they trade off for a while.
At first the formal style of Henrik’s thoughts and language had me thinking he was a sociopath in the making. But I got used to it and it’s sort of like listening to Data (the android from Star Trek: The Next Generation) tell a story–to the point, no contractions, matter of fact. Seeing the war through a teenagers eyes, especially their take on the concentration camps from the outside looking in as they searched for signs of Greta, is somewhat novel. I’d read Night by Elie Wiesel back in school and even though he was a teen when he was taken to the camps, that he was telling the story as an adult, with an adult’s hindsight, gave it a different flavor. It was interesting.
Meanwhile, The One I Was, has two concurrent storylines: the main character, Rosamond, is a nurse who returns to her former home, anÂ English manor house at Fairfleet, to care for a man who lived there even before she did, as one of the Kindertransport refugees taken in by her grandmother during the war. Both have secrets they’ve been holding onto for decades, and now that Benny is in his last days, he’s ready to tell his story.
We skip from past to present, following the two narratives, until both secrets are finally revealed. I admit that I guessed Benny’s secret long before it was spelled out. Rose’s was less a secret and more a child’s misplaced guilt, the way children often assume responsibility for the actions of the grown-ups around them. Especially when said grown-ups are despicable human beings with a good grasp on manipulating others.
To say that I liked either of the books doesn’t feel quite right. It’s more that I appreciated the story they had to tell and was grateful for hearing it. If that even makes sense.
Finally, The Girl From Krakow was a bit harder to get into. I think I mightÂ be getting over my renewed fascination with WWII era Europe, so it could just be subject-fatigue. But Rita as a main character was not a compelling character at the beginning. She redeemed herself, in my eyes, by the end, but it was a long process.
Also set in Poland, Rita starts off as a co-ed in 1935, but takes the more traditional path of marriage and family, but not without some dalliances along the way. The book descriptions claims…
When the war arrives, Rita is armed with a secret so enormous that it could cost the Allies everything, even as it gives her the will to live.She must find a way both to keep her secret and to survive amid the chaos of Europe at war. Living by her wits among the Germans as their conquests turn to defeat, she seeks a way to prevent the inevitable doom of Nazism from making her one of its last victims. Can her passion and resolve outlast the most powerful evil that Europe has ever seen?
Makes it sound like a fast-paced novel of espionage and such, right? Right?! Not so much…
The secret she’s entrusted with is a non-starter. Oh, it’s big and all that, but it has very little bearing on the bulk of the story, though I can see where the author was trying to go with it, it just didn’t happen. She does have to rely on her wits, yes, but she also relies on luck that she looks more Aryan than Jewish and the help of many other people along the way. She does some truly questionable things over the course of the story, and has the requisite existential crisis along the way. And I got far less passion from her than the description would have me expect.
The character living by their wits moreso was Tadeusz/Gil, whom we follow through Poland, Spain, and Russia in between Rita’s parts. He has absolutely nothing to do with this big secret, but I found his story far more interesting.
Again, it’s not that I disliked the book, but I also didn’t appreciate the story it was telling in the same way I did the first two. It is, sadly, another signal to me to avoid books withÂ “A Novel” tacked onto the title, as I found with All the Light We Cannot See.
FBI Meets State Police, Sparks Fly (but not the way you expect)
- Vanished (Callahan & McLane Book 1)*
- Bridged (Callahan & McLane Book 2)*
- Spiraled (Callahan & McLane Book 3)*
It’s a trope in law enforcement stories that the local police don’t appreciate the state troopers involvement, and neither like it when the FBI steps in. Turf wars and all that. But when a child goes missing, the local cops aren’t upset to have the FBI’s help in finding her. The state police come in when the missing child happens to be the stepdaughter of Detective Callahan’s ex-wife.
Side-eye at the sister’s brother’s cousin’s roommate’s uncle sort of tie-in, but, okay, sure, we needed a way to get everyone involved and here we go. Callahan appoints himself as the family’s spokesperson for the media bits, as a way to help without being officially involved, and Ava McLane takes the role of in-house support for the family.
I did like the sort of twist that the higher-ranking official of the two was the woman of the story. I was less interested in the eventual romance angle (and listening to sex scenes in an audiobook is incredibly awkward, I ended up swiping past them in each book). I thought the character interaction was good, I think the author did a great job of keeping all the moving parts going forward, and overall enjoyed the series.
Again, it’s a little tough to talk specifics in a series because it gives earlier bits away.
One thing I flat-out did not like was that Ava became a target two books in a row (I don’t think I’m giving away too much, here), even if both were matters of chance, especially since the three books all take place within a 12-month span. That’s a lot to dump on a character, you know? There are other ways of making a good story besides putting the same character in peril. In this way, the procedural side of books 2 & 3 really served as a backdrop for the romance between McLane and Callahan and those aren’t the type of stories I’m drawn to.
If there’s another book in the series I would hope it would center more on crime aspect, but seeing as author Kendra Elliot’s other books are often classified as Romance first, Mystery & Suspense next, it’s probably not to be. But if you like romance with a side of thrilled, these might be the books for you.
Putting the Fun in Dysfunctional
Hoo, boy! You wanna talk about dysfunctional family drama? The Book of James is just that. After her husband’s death in a car accident, Mackenzie learns that not only is his mother still alive, that his family isÂ filthy rich. Why had they been just barely scraping by all these years? Because the money came with strings, a whole family’s sordid history of strings.
This story was a bit trippy, but in a good way. A way that would make me sit up late at night with a bucket of popcorn and watch it on Lifetime. (That’s not a dis, by the way, Lifetime movies are very entertaining!)
The James of the title is the mystery at hand. It’s part of Nick’s last words to Mackenzie, “find James,” and what prompts her to accept her mother-in-law’s invitation to stay at the family home for a while. She investigates (badly) with the help of the son of the family lawyer who is surprisingly okay with the odd requests Mackenzie makes of him. There’s the neighbor who shows up at any given time and who seems pretty senile and her older brother who, it is revealed early on, is tied to the matriarch in many ways, most of which not so good.
There are Psycho-level mother-son issues here, folks. Again, I go back to the popcorn. While I mostly listened to the audiobook, the story was compelling enough that I also switched to reading it at other times.
Finally, A Wilder Rose was recommended after last month’s book round up and I’m so glad it was!
The biggest takeway for me wasÂ how much her relationship with her mother, the famous Laura Ingalls Wilder of the Little House books, is a lot like my own relationship with my mom (minus the literary accomplishments, of course). I remember listening to this particular passage while preparing dinner and was so struck Â by how perfect the words were, not only did I stop the narration so I could highlight them, but I read them to Todd at the dinner table a little later.
I heard a barb buried in every sentence, an expectation in every offer, a demand in every smiling invitation. She and I were like neighboring states with a long and problematic history, with shared and very porous boundaries, she constantly invading, I continually repelling. A part of me wanted to be closer to my mother, but if I were to allow her invasions, I would be overrun, smothered, swallowed up. If I were ever to pursue my own goals, I had to push her away. When I did, she felt rejected and abandoned and stepped up her demands, These periodic sallies and skirmishes intensified my despair about the situation in which I had been trapped, without hope of release, since I was a child. My sense of guilty obligation was born of those terrible days when I could never do what she asked fast enough or well enough to meet her expectations or her demands, yet I had to try and try again. Here I was at midlife, still trying to meet her expectations–and the trying was making me sick.
Mothers and daughters frequently butt heads, that’s not exactly news, but I’d recently come to a particular bit of insight about my own mother after a truly unfortunate incident at work and, well, this hit home with incredible accuracy.
Those personal applications aside, I found A Wilder Rose to be fascinating on so many levels and now I want track down Rose Lane’s books to see how she wrote when she wasn’t ghostwriting her mother’s Little House books.
Because that’s what this book revolves around, how much did Rose Lane really have to do with the success of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s books. Building the story from Rose’s diaries, letters, and other references, the author strings together a narrative (you could almost call it narrative non-fiction) that clearly indicates the amount of work Rose did but was never credited for. Granted, by all accounts she didn’t want the credit, though I can only imagine too well how she might have wanted genuine thanks from her mother.
Throughout the pieces of how and why the arrangement came to be, we also learn about Rose’s work in journalism, her living abroad in Albania with friends, her fascination with houses–buying, building, decorating–and her fondness for the people around her. Despite “A Novel” being part of the title, this book had me pretty much enthralled throughout and has me wanting to read more work set in the 30s and about the men and women who weren’t the displaced farmers of the Depression and Dust Bowl years. I feel like we always get so much about the Roaring 20s and the early 40s, but aside from the headlines the 30s aren’t as common a setting.
(* denotes audiobooks; all Amazon links are affiliate links)
What have you read lately that you’d recommend?