The Girls of Ennismore by Patricia Falvey

The Girls of Ennismore is a historical fiction novel set in Ireland during the early part of the twentieth century.  It follows the lives and friendship of two girls, Rosie and Victoria, from their early childhood through to the time they are both young ladies.  Rosie comes from a working class family.  Victoria’s family is both wealthy and titled.  A chance meeting between the two young girls leads Victoria to beg her father to allow Rosie to be educated along with her and be a companion to her.  The difference in their stations in life leads to complications and divisiveness over time as the girls age.

The Girls of Ennismore not only tells the stories of Rosie and Victoria but sets them against a historical backdrop that includes such events as the sinking of the Titanic and the Easter Rising in Ireland.  The author seamlessly weaves these historical elements into an already strong plot.  The writing in this novel is very skilled and while the book is long it is so entertaining that I finished it in a weekend because I did not want to put it down. I highly recommend this novel to those who enjoy historical fiction.  You will not be disappointed.  I look forward to reading more books by this author.

Thank you to the publisher and Netgalley for allowing me to read an advanced copy of this novel.

Five out of five stars.

The Cutaway by Christina Kovac

The Cutaway by Christina Kovac takes place in Washington D.C.  The main character is news producer Virginia Knightly.  Virginia sees a notice on her desk about a missing woman, Evelyn Carney, and is immediately drawn into trying to find her.

This mystery was well written and gains points for the setting being centered around a television news station rather than the usual police station setting for these types of novel.  There were multiple suspects and none were a clear winner until the last minute.

The only problem I had with the novel is I kept wondering, beyond being naturally curious as a news producer, why Virginia cared so much for finding Evelyn.  It’s not like they were related, or Evelyn was related to someone else in Virginia’s life.  It just felt like there should have been more connection of some sort to spark Virginia’s interest.   Other than that vague feeling of something not right in that area, I truly enjoyed this book.

Thank you to the publisher and Netgalley for allowing me to read an advanced copy of this book.

Three out of five stars.

The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane by Lisa See

Snowflower and the Secret Fan is easily one of my top five favorite books of all time.  Given that standard, I compare every other Lisa See book to Snowflower and the Secret Fan.  None of them quite reached its level but all of See’s books are wonderful in their own right.  The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane is See’s newest book and comes real close to Snowflower in my list of favorites.

Anytime you read a book by See you can guarantee that she has done her research.  I always learn so much from reading See’s books, all the while enjoying a great storyline.  It never feels like a chore or lesson being taught though she manages to convey a lot of new information to me.  If I had to boil this novel down to its most bare bones, I would say it is about tea, love, tradition, and the sacred bonds that are shared by mothers and daughters.

The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane focuses on the Akha, an ethnic minority in China.  The Akha live in a remote rural area and earn their living by growing tea.  My review could not possibly do justice in describing the intricate details involved in the tea growth and trade in China.  The main character, Li-Yan, grows up in this tribe.

One thing that I found unusual about the Akha tribe is that young people are not only allowed but encouraged to have sex before marriage, to ‘test each other out’ per se.  While I thought this was incredibly progressive, turns out that while they can have sex the females are not supposed to allow themselves to ‘come to a head’ which means get pregnant.  So even in a remote area in China, women are blamed for the sins of both.

Li-Yan has an interesting life.  She falls in love and gives birth to a daughter that she must give up or kill.  She chooses to give her daughter away.  Li-Yan goes on to learn a lot about tea, both the growing and the distribution.  She learns the old ways from her mother and the new ways by extending her education.  She falls in love again and marries.  Li-Yan is a very likable protagonist.  You will find yourself rooting for her happiness and well-being.

Thank you to the publisher and Netgalley for allowing me to read an advanced copy of this novel.

Five out of five stars.

 

The Girl Before by J.P. Delaney

The building One Folgate Street is the common thread between two different women’s stories in two different timelines.  Emma is the past storyline and Jane the present.  Both women agree to live in the home under strict guidelines that do not even allow for personal belongings to be brought into the home.  Something happened to Emma and when Jane becomes aware of this fact, she is determined to find out what.

Both storylines were in the category of ok to me.  Neither was particularly bad, but I was not gripped and dying to know what became of either woman.  The story had promise but just did not reach its potential for me.  

Thank you to the publisher and Netgalley for allowing me to read an ARC of this novel in exchange for a review.

Two out of five stars.

Gone Without A Trace by Mary Torjussen

Hannah Moore’s boyfriend has left her. He not only left but left without leaving a trace that he was ever in her life. The first three-fourths of this book I spent wondering why Hannah was wasting time hunting for Matt. He left her, clearly, he was not interested in her. But Hannah just knew if she could find him that he would return to her. Over time she increases the amount of time she spends thinking about him and searching for him. She even loses her job because she can not let it go that he has left her.

The last quarter of the book reveals information about Hannah that the reader was not privy to in earlier parts of the book. I kept reading because I wanted to find out why Matt left her but thought the reveal was delayed a bit too long.

Thank you to Penguin Publishing for allowing me to read an ARC through the Penguin First Reads Program.

Two out of five stars.

The Art of Breathing by Janie Devos

Set in the early 1950’s, The Art of Breathing by Janie Devos is a story about a young married woman, Kathryn,  who contracts tuberculosis and must be institutionalized for a while to recuperate.  Kathryn is married and has one small son, Donnie.  When the novel begins, Kathryn and Donnie are visiting her parents for a family wedding.  It is not long until Kathryn is diagnosed and it is decided she will enter Pelham Sanitorium, near her parents and also where her aunt works.  It is decided Donnie will stay with her parents for the summer while his father continues with his usual work schedule in the city.  At first, Kathryn is not fond of Pelham, which is completely natural.  However, over time she makes friends and if not happy there she is at least not unhappy.

Throughout the book, there are hints that all is not perfect in Kathryn’s marriage.  It is not until she spends the significant time that she must at the sanitorium that the ever widening gap between herself and her husband becomes clear to Kathryn.  Even though essentially locked up, Kathryn gains a tremendous amount of independence and self sufficiency while at the sanitorium.  Along with the other marital problems, this is simply not one that will ever lead to her marriage being repaired.

This book is very well written.  While not a thriller, I did find myself turning the pages to find out what was going to happen to Kathryn.  It kept my attention well and I was satisfied with how the story ended.

Thank you to the publisher and Netgalley for allowing me to read an advanced copy of this novel.

Four out of five stars.

The Sleepwalker by Chris Bohjalian

Set in Vermont in the early 2000’s, this novel begins with the mother of the Ahlberg family going missing.  The two children, Lianna (21) and Paige (14), are home alone with their mother.  Their father is away on a business trip.  When the girls wake in the morning their mom has disappeared.  Complicating Annalee’s disappearance, is the fact that she has a history of sleepwalking.

This novel is a combination of the mystery of what has happened to Annalee and exploration of what happens to the family left behind.  Lianna serves as the primary voice of the family’s story.  The novel is well written and follows a meandering style of revelations which mirrors the laid back personality of Lianna.

Lianna is the type of character who lets things happen to her rather than being a proactive person.  When her mother disappears, Lianna stays home rather than return to college.  She halfheartedly takes care of her younger sister and father.  She lets deadlines pass on reporting to her college about returning.  The truth of what happened to her mom comes to Lianna without her having really put much effort into searching for the truth.  She is a likable character but not what one would typically expect the protagonist to be like in a storyline such as this one.

Rating:  Three out of five stars

My Not So Perfect Life by Sophie Kinsella

This novel begins and ends with the premise that the lives we present online as well as the lives of those we follow is not the whole truth.  Online lives are the more perfect parts of our existence, not the whole picture.  The main character, Katie, is a young woman in a beginner’s job, living in London.  She is trying to remake herself in London from her country beginnings.  Life in London has always been her dream.

As is the case for most dreams, the reality does not match the fantasy built in Katie’s mind.  She feels very unsatisfied in her job and while she admires her boss, Demeter, she also at times resents her.  Katie eventually loses her job and has to move back home.  This gives her time to reevaluate her choices.  I won’t describe more of the plot but do recommend giving this book a read.

This novel was a really fun read but also had substance to it.  It provoked an array of emotions in me while reading.  Katie was a very relatable protagonist and her story was well written.  I could easily see this novel being turned into a movie.  This is the first book I have read by Kinsella, but it will not be the last.  Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for allowing me to read an advanced copy.

Rating:  Four out of five stars

The Blood of Emmett Till by Timothy B. Tyson

Most everyone knows the story of what happened to Emmett Till.  So when reading a book like this, one must ask themselves how does this add to the narrative of this well known story.  Tyson accomplishes this in a couple of different ways.

Over time, Till has become a civil rights icon.  Tyson humanizes both Till and his mother, Mamie Bradley.   Bradley raised her son along with her grandmother after Till’s father left her and eventually enlisted in the military.  Tyson tells about Till loving baseball and being a mischevious but well behaved boy.  Till along with other neighborhood boys would sometimes doo wap under a street light in their neighborhood.  His school principal described him as a quiet and average student.  The details make him a little boy rather than a civil rights icon and make reading about his death that much more horrific.

In the epilogue, Tyson illustrates the legacy of Emmett Till and how his murder reverberates through to today.  In particular, the effects of his murder on people who were also children when the murder took place and the impact it had on them.  Tyson refers to them as the children of Emmett Till.  These are the same people who in the 1960’s became civil rights activists.  Tyson argues that while acts of violence on the level of Till’s murder are less common today, young African Americans are being killed by gangs, poverty, and too few opportunities.

More information from Carolyn Bryant, the woman who set this whole thing in motion, would have really added to this book.  There is some but I was left wanting more.  Also of interest to me, was the fairness of the trial if not the final verdict.  Tyson lays out how the prosecutor and judge both were more fair than he expected they would have been in Mississippi.  From Tyson’s description, the trial was as fair as it would have been anywhere else.  The jurors were the ones who failed Till and his mother.

Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for allowing me to read an advanced copy of this book.

Four out of five stars.

The Whole Town’s Talking by Fannie Flagg

This is not what I would consider a typical Fannie Flagg novel.  That does not mean it is not good because it is.  The author chose to be adventurous in the scope used with this novel.  It begins with the founding of Elmwood Springs, Missouri in the late 1880’s and spans an entire century, ending in 2016.  One would think it would be difficult to keep track of the characters in such a large time span but most of them descend from a known entity from a previous generation so it is not difficult to keep them separated.

It’s said too often but in this case, it is true that the town itself is a character.  In fact, it is really the main character and only constant throughout the novel.  The plot is character driven and very little action takes place.  There are traces of typical Flagg humor sprinkled here and there throughout but mostly this is an easy read but mostly plotless novel.

Flagg’s strength in this novel lies in her strong characterization skills.  I felt like I knew each inhabitant of Elmwood Springs well enough to stop in for a cup of coffee had they actually existed.  This is not a fast read but it is enjoyable.

Thank you to Netgalley and Random House Publishing Group for allowing me to read an advanced copy of this novel.

Three out of five stars.