“Telling Sonny”: A Review

When nineteen-year-old Faby attends the annual Vaudeville Show in her small town, she is hoping to escape to the drudgery of day-to-day life in the Gauthier household, where chores are watched over by the critical eye of Maman and Maman Aurore. The year is 1924, the setting small town Vermont, USA, and even though she’s been attending these fanfares since she was seven, Faby has no idea that this particular show is about to change her life.

“Telling Sonny” is the first published book of author Elizabeth Gauffreau. I’ve had the honour of meeting and communicating with Elizabeth through her blog, so was excited to read her work.

“Telling Sonny” reads like an historical memoir, the descriptive details effectively capture the ambiance of the era. As a reader, I felt myself swept up in the emotions of the story: fearing for Faby, wishing she’d assert more on her own behalf, frustrated by the helplessness of her situation.

Gauffreau’s gift is the ability to create an animated portrait of a bygone era and pair it with a timeless issue, culminating in a suspenseful and satisfying read.

I’d recommend “Telling Sonny” as a book club selection.

Well done, Liz!

“Next Year in Havana”: Review

In 1958, Cuba is experiencing political unrest.  The Perez sisters, sheltered from the uprising by their social standing, look for opportunities to sneak out of the house.  During one of these outings, nineteen-year-old Elisa meets a man who steals her heart.  He is a revolutionary.  Their forbidden romance heats up as the plots against the government force the current leader to flee.  For their own safety, the Perez family must also escape, leaving their possessions, and secrets behind.

Fast forward to 2017, Miami.  Elisa’s granddaughter is planning a trip to Cuba, under the guise of a travel writer.  She is actually planning to carry out her grandmother’s dying wishes: to leave her ashes in Cuba.  Marisol hopes to learn more about the country of her heritage, encouraged by the romantic stories of her grandmother and great aunts.  Marisol encounters more than she anticipated.

Next Year In Havana, by Chanel Cleeton, is both historical fiction and modern day romance.  It examines the human aspects of political oppression, and offers a glimpse of Cuban life beyond the all-inclusive resorts.

As a reader, I found myself immersed in the descriptions of Cuba, interested in the questions raised by Cleeton’s characters:  Is revolution ever effective?  How does change happen?  What hope do people have in the face of corrupt government?

Next Year In Havana is recommended to lovers of historical fiction, romance, or human interest stories.  It would be a suitable study for book clubs.  The audio version, available through audible.ca is narrated by Kyla Garcia, and Frankie Maria Corzo.

 

 

 

“The Distant Hours”: a review

The letter that arrives decades after it is post-marked is the first indication that Edie’s mother has been keeping secrets.  Although her mother is not sharing any information, Edie is intrigued enough to investigate on her own.  She finds herself visiting a decaying castle, where she encounters the Blythe sisters, and the mystery deepens.

Fluctuating between current and war times, The Distant Hours is richly descriptive, and offers an intriguing storyline as well as quirky, but loveable characters.  The castle, itself, with its draughty corridors and shadowy corners is the perfect setting to spark the imagination.

Kate Morton is fast becoming one of my favourite authors.  Opening her novels is like settling in with a comfortable old friend, knowing that the conversation will be lively and satisfying.

Other books that I have read and reviewed by this author include:  The Forgotten GardenThe Secret Keeper, and The Lake House.  

 

 

“A Land More Kind Than Home”: Review

Some books hook you right from the beginning and won’t let you go until you’ve drained every last word out of them.  A Land More Kind Than Home is such a novel.

Told through the perspective of three narrators, Wiley Cash’s tale of fanaticism in the south is a coming of age story, a murder mystery, and a study of human character.

Addie Lyle is an old woman with brass roots sensibility.  She hasn’t stepped foot in the church since the first incident, and she has made it her business that the children of Marshall don’t need to see what goes on either.

Jess Hall is at that inquisitive age, and together with his older brother, Stump, and a neighbour boy, they do what boys do – explore outside the permitted boundaries.

The third narrator is the old sheriff, Clem, who understands too well the heartbreak and senselessness of loss.

Fire and brimstone is being taught at the local church, and there are way too many snakes involved.

I listened to the audio version of this book, read by Nick Sullivan, Lorna Raver, and Mark Bramhall.

A Land More Kind Than Home contains scenarios that are frightening, including death scenes.  Sex is referenced, but not explicit.  This would make a good book club selection.

“Apprenticed to Venus”: a Review

Subtitled My Secret Life with Anaïs Nin, Apprenticed to Venus is the part memoir, part novel of Tristine Rainier, who mentored under the famous diarist.

Although  I have been inspired by Nin’s words, I have known very little about her, so I was eager to read this book.  Rainier, on an errand from her artist aunt, encounters Anaïs at her home in New York, and from there becomes part of the bizarre and tantalizing underworld of Nin’s complicated life.

The story begins with a very naive and impressionable Tristine, who is anxious to stay in her idol’s good books.  In modern day terms, Nin is a classic narcissist, who uses others for her own gain, and even though Tristine experiences the warmth and distancing characteristic of such a personality, she remains loyal to Anaïs, questioning her own motivations right to the end, and defending the lessons that Nin’s influence has taught her.

Rainier’s commitment to Nin is contagious, and I found myself also drawn in by the eccentric’s charm, wanting to know more.

Interspersed with Nin’s story is Rainier’s own story, from shy teenager to accomplished literary figure in her own right.

Apprenticed to Venus is primarily the story of two women and the bonds that define their relationship.  It is also about celebrity, and love, and the search for women’s equality.  There is nothing conventional about Anaïs Nin, as witnessed by Rainier’s account, and I think that is perhaps why I shall continue to be inspired by her.

“Before We Were Yours”: A Review

Before We Were Yours, by Lisa Wingate introduces the shameful story of the Tennessee Children’s Home Society, an organization run by Georgia Tann, a woman who made money by abducting poor children from their homes and selling them into adoption.

Wingate’s novel imagines what life would be like for siblings taken from their homes and forced into Tann’s human trafficking scheme.  It asks the question: should the past stay in the past, or is there value in revealing truths?

The story unfolds through the perspective of two women:  one an up and coming lawyer and politician, and the other an elderly woman in a nursing home.  The women’s chance meeting, provokes the younger, Avery, to investigate the connection between May and Avery’s grandmother.

Wingate weaves an intriguing tale, and the audio version is equally entertaining.

While the historical context is fascinating, and tragic, I struggled with the characters, who seem too good to be real, however; this is fiction, and when the story unwinds to the benefit of all, I guess this is what readers suspect.

That said, I am glad I listened to this book, as I now have awareness of a topic that I feel deserves further attention.  Disregard for human life continues to be a problem.  Here is literature highlighting the atrocity.

The Alice Network: a Worthy Read

Charlie’s cousin Rose has disappeared, and refusing to believe she is dead, Charlie sets out to retrace Rose’s steps.  Her investigation brings her to the door of Eve Gardner, a cranky woman, with deformed hands, a clear drinking problem, and a luger.  Together, with the help of a Scotsman, with a shady past, the three head to post-war France to find Rose, and settle a grudge that Eve has been nursing since the first world war.

Based on the real life adventures of a network of female spies, Kate Quinn has penned an intriguing and suspenseful story of life on the front lines as fought in the establishments that played host to the Nazi’s during the occupation.

The Alice Network weaves together two stories, told through the perspective of each heroine:  the plight of the unwed and pregnant Charlie, and the heroic life of Eve.  The audio book version is effectively narrated by Saskia Maarleveld.  The characters are interesting and the story line offers just enough suspense to keep the reader engaged.

This book is suitable for book clubs, or those looking for a light summer read, with a historical flavouring.

The Alice Network was published by HarperCollins, June 6, 2017.

“The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir”: a review

It’s World War II, and the denizens of Chilbury are faced with the loss of their church choir as their men leave to fight for the cause.  Enter Prim, an upbeat teacher, with a fresh outlook, who encourages the women to defy protocols and create their own chorus.

Jennifer Ryan’s novel about the life of those left behind during war, is laced with intrigue, romance, and humour.  The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir illustrates how war brings out the worst and the best in people, and how when a community pulls together, transformation occurs.

The story unfolds via letters and journal entries, introducing many different perspectives.  As is my norm, I listened to the audio version, performed by: Gabrielle Glaister, Laura Kirman, Imogene Wilde, Adjoa Andoh, Tom Clegg, and Mike Grady.

The audio rendition is delightful, and with Ryan’s excellent use of description, I felt as if I was watching, not just listening, to an expert performance.

Very entertaining.

“Everything I Never Told You”: Review

Set in small town Ohio, in the 1970’s, Everything I Never Told You tells the story of the Lee family: father, James, a professor and Chinese-American; Marilyn, a blue-eyed blonde, and their three children, one of which has disappeared as the story opens.

The investigation into sixteen-year-old Lydia’s disappearance and consequent death (not a spoiler, as this is revealed in the opening chapter) unearth’s a tragic tale of the consequences of not fitting-in, of not pursuing one’s own dreams, and of the gap that divides one generation from the next.  Interracial marriage, racial discrimination, homosexuality, and women’s issues are all approached in Celeste Ng’s novel.

As a mother, I found myself relating to Marilyn’s ambition for Lydia – wanting her to live a life not defined by relationships to men.  At the same time, I could empathize with Lydia’s drive to please both of her parents, and the confusion it creates about her own sense of self.

Ng’s novel clearly illustrates the complexities of her characters and their internal struggles, and in the end, leaves the audience with a sense of hope.

The audio version of this novel, read by Cassandra Campbell is well done, although I personally find Ms. Campbell’s exaggerated enunciation of words to be annoying at times.

Everything I Never Told You is an easy read, and would be suitable for book clubs and young adult readers.

 

“Half of a Yellow Sun”: Review

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie weaves an intricate tale, with well-developed characters and relationships, and just when the reader wonders where it is all headed, the unthinkable happens.

“Half of a Yellow Sun” is not a symbol I would have recognized before reading Adichie’s work.  Now I know that it is integral to the Biafran war, and the depth of atrocity that accompanied it.

Half of a Yellow Sun has rich storylines, and covers three different perspectives of the war:  Olanna, a woman raised by a man of power; Richard, an Englishman who struggles to find his place; and Ugwu, a man-servant.  Through these three voices, Adichie illustrates the complexities of a society struggling for identity amidst social and political turmoil.

Adichie understands the importance of story, and her work skillfully illustrates that even the most sensitive of issues have many sides.  I have only just finished listening to the audio version of Half of a Yellow Sun, narrated by Zainab Jah, and my mind is reeling with all the underlying implications.  This is definitely a novel I would like to share with a study group.

Adichie won many awards for this novel, first released by Knopf/Anchor is 2006:  Women’s Prize for Fiction, PEN/Open Book, and Anisfield-Wolf Book Award.