[Review] The London House by Katherine Reay

Publisher and Publication Date: Harper Muse. November 2, 2021.
Genre: Historical fiction.
Pages: 368.
Format: E-book.
Source: I received a complimentary e-book from NetGalley. I am not required to write a positive review.
Audience: Historical fiction readers of World War II.
Rating: Excellent.

Link @ Harper Muse.

Link @ Amazon.

Link @ Barnes and Noble.

Link @ Book Depository.

Katherine Reay’s website/ Facebook/ Twitter/ Instagram/ Pinterest.

An excerpt audio.

Summary:

Chapter One begins in America with the modern time period.

Caroline is contacted by an old college friend who is writing a story about her family. Caroline and Mat meet to discuss his intentions about writing a story about her great aunt’s betrayal to family and country during World War II. Mat had already met with Caroline’s dad. Her dad is furious about the expose. Caroline decides to go to London and stay with her mother to discover for herself the real story of Aunt Caro.

Caroline is the modern time period’s heroine. She is named after her aunt Caroline, but Aunt Caroline is known through most of the book as Caro. Caro, a British citizen, had lived in Paris and worked in a couture dress shop in the late 1930s to 1941.

The story’s main time period is the modern time period and will reflect back to the 1930s and 1940s-especially during the readings of letters and journals.

My Thoughts:

I have several thoughts!

After I read a book, I read a few reviews over at Goodreads. I did not know Katherine Reay has written Christian fiction stories. The London House is the first book I’ve read by her. So, I have no other work of hers to compare to this one. I am not a fan of Christian fiction. I’ve read a few Christian fiction books over the years but do not consider myself knowledgeable about that genre.

It’s interesting that The London House and another book I’d finished the day before are both polar in writing style. The other book is a quick read type story. There is little building to events-just a jump right into the scene’s story. There are some detailed descriptions. The story has a bite as far as the over-all dark theme…review on that book will be later!

The London House is a thinking story-a mature story. It is mature in that the characters (all of them) have moments of clarity, recognition, conviction, forgiveness, reconciliation, and a peaceful resolution. Now, there is nothing in the book that is considered Christianese words, but those themes I listed are Christian in nature. I dislike a story that pastes Christianese words so that the book will be labeled as a Christian fiction book. I want to yawn while typing that comment. I want to yawn because it does not help a story by pasting words without development of action or behavior in the characters. And the behavior of characters will be remembered longer than pretty words.

Caroline knows there is something in her family’s past they are not talking about. This is a prime example of not communicating and thus the intimacy and bond with the family members is disconnected and frayed. This has happened in my family. This has happened in many families-the inability to communicate about what is wrong. Communication is hard work. For many of the people I know, they don’t know where to begin. The words will not even come to them in their brain so that they can speak audibly. This can be true in all types of families. I dislike a label that this only happens in families that are not Christian. Pooh.

Caroline is a remarkable person. Despite the disconnect in the family, she perseveres to find a point of connection with her parents. She does not give up. She is responsible, protective, kind, hardworking, educated, independent, and patient. I love her transformation that progresses in the story!

Caroline’s parents struggle. They share a bitter traumatic memory. My heart grieves for them as well as for Caroline. In addition, Caroline’s father carries an unresolved generational trauma that impacted him as a child and is still evident. And it has impacted the generation of Caroline. On multiple points the family needs help. Katherine Reay did a splendid job of perfectly describing the family’s awkwardness and yet trying to find a place to connect.

Caro is a character who I know through her letters and her sister’s memories. Caro is so much more than what her family has pegged her. Isn’t this often the case? People make a preconceived judgement (without all the facts) about a person and then build on that until the person is whittled down to a matchstick of what they really are. It is terribly sad. Caro’s story is the important background story that sets The London House in motion. Caro represents all those courageous people who through action defied the enemy.

I love the story’s relocation to London. I love the places they visit. For example, cafes and tourist stops. Towards the end of the story there is Paris.

The London House is a story that builds. It is not a quick paced story. It is a visceral story. It is a story with a strong focus-mystery to solve-a need to find the truth and reveal it.

The London House shows me some of the characters thoughts and feelings. The primary characters are heavy developed in their thoughts, feelings, words, and actions.

The London House shows me that the truth comes out eventually. But during the journey, there will be other important discoveries.

The London House does not sweep up everything tidy and put a bow on it to show this is a perfect family because there are no perfect families, but it is real and endearing.

Themes in the story: loyalty, perseverance, courage, bravery, redemption, acceptance, compassion, patience, circle of life, sacrifice, romance, suffering, judgment, war, survival, wisdom, grief, hope, justice, and love.

[Review] Three Words for Goodbye by Hazel Gaynor and Heather Webb

Publisher and Publication Date: William Morrow, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers. July 27, 2021.
Genre: Historical fiction.
Pages: 395 total pages with written material. I counted!
Format: Paperback.
Source: Self-purchase.
Audience: Historical fiction readers. Readers who have an interest in World War II stories, travel, relationships, and romance.
Rating: Good.

Link @ Amazon.

Link @ Barnes and Noble.

Link @ Book Depository.

Author pages @ Goodreads.
Hazel Gaynor.
Heather Webb.

Summary:

1937. The story begins in New York state.

The matriarch of the story is Violet. She has cancer. She has one daughter, Celestine Sommers. Celestine is a widow with two daughters. The two daughters are Clara and Madeleine.

Clara and Madeleine are in their twenties. Their personalities are as different as night and day. Clara is an artist. Madeleine is a writer. Clara is engaged. Madeleine doesn’t want a relationship to tie her down.

Violet asks them to travel together to Europe and deliver three letters. Violet has arranged all travel plans. The sisters will travel to Paris, Venice, and Vienna.

The sisters do not like each other and they usually avoid one another. Traveling together for an extended trip causes immediate angst. Their grandmother assures them all will be okay. She has arranged everything.

My Thoughts:

I have mixed feelings about the story. Over-all I enjoyed it. Over-all I read the book in two days because I couldn’t stop reading it. However, there are some things about the story I don’t like.

What I like about Three Words for Goodbye:
1. The story is about two sisters who are polar in personality. Their differences create internal and external conflicts. Their differences create a background and current circumstance. Their differences bring added drama to the story. Their differences bring satire to the story and to the dialogue. Their differences bring a strong interest for me to keep reading.
2. Violet is a strong character. Even though she is in poor health, she is a strong and interesting character. She is unlike most females of her generation.
3. I love the travel itinerary. I love the cities they visit.
4. I love the strong descriptions of the three cities. Whether they travel by ship, train, or air ship, I am there. I too am traveling with them. Plus, Clara has an eye for art. Her perspective is as an artist. Madeleine is a writer. Her perspective is as a writer. Both of them bring their perspectives of what they see and experience.
5. There is a transformation of the sisters. In the beginning, each see their own viewpoint and feelings. As the story progresses, they begin to understand their way has been one-sided.
6. I love stories that share what the characters think. When a story only shares the dialogue that is audible to others that’s not enough for me. I want to know how they feel that is not expressed audibly. I want to know their fears, insecurities, hurts, doubts, and anxieties.

What I do not like about the story or what I found lacking:
1. I know who Celestine is (the name) but she is like a ghost in the story. I know Violet. I know Clara and Madeleine. I know their deceased father. I know their deceased grandfather. But what is Celestine like. I feel she should have been completely dropped from the story. Let her be dead like the father and grandfather. She is unneeded. Her name takes up space.
2. I read one reference to Madeleine smoking. I read a few statistics about smoking in the first half of the 20th century. From the 1920s to 1950s, 70% of men smoked. In the 1920s females who smoked were rare. But smoking became more common as advertisements encouraged smoking. My mother was born in 1926 and she did not smoke. Her mother was born in the early 1900s and she did not smoke. Both my grandfathers smoked. My point in all of this is a story in this time period should reflect people and their common habits. It should reflect a lifestyle similar to that period and to the people themselves. Several references are made to drinking alcohol and gambling, but why only one reference to smoking?
3. The story is predictable. It is predictable from the first page to the last page. The romances are predictable. The direction of the story period.
4. I had hoped to read more of an emphasis on what is going on in Europe pre-World War II.
5. The biggest love story is between the two sisters. I feel this should be the primary focus with the theme of love and relationships. After-all, there are different types of love; there are different levels of love.

Closing thoughts:
1. I’m happy to state this is not a dual time period story. The story moves chronologically in time.
2. Madeleine is presented as a female trying to create a career in a male dominated world. Let her remain single. Let her write her own story about the trip or Violet’s life. People do not have to have a romantic storyline. It is an additional point to read. People do not have to be in a romantic relationship for life to be complete and enjoyable. Be a breath of fresh air and let them be focused on the joy of career and friends.

Themes in the story:

Love, relationships, family saga, romance, travel, acceptance, kindness, circle of life, injustice, conformity, beauty, and greed.

[Review] The French Baker’s War by Michael Whatling

Publisher and Publication Date: Mortal Coil Books. April 18, 2021.
Genre: Historical fiction.
Pages: The paperback has 298 pages.
Format: E-book.
Source: I received a complimentary e-book from NetGalley. I am not required to write a positive review.
Audience: Readers of historical fiction. Readers of World War II and Holocaust stories.
Rating: Okay to good.

Link @ Amazon.

Michael Whatling’s Goodreads author page.

Summary:

Andre and Mireille Albert are husband and wife. They own a bakery. They have a young son named Frederic. The name of their bakery is Patisserie Saint-Lery. They live in the town of Saint-Lery d-Espoir’s place de villle in Occupied France.
On October 19, 1943, Mireille became missing. Andre found his son. He found a strange, young woman hiding, but his wife is gone. Andre doesn’t know what has happened? He doesn’t know what to do about his wife’s absence? He doesn’t know what to do about this new woman? Andre is shocked and fearful. He is aghast at what to do?
The story is a daily journal of this time period in the life of the Albert family and the new woman whose name is Emilie.
The story is a mystery. For most of the story, the reader does not know what is going on in this family.
Andre and Mireille are a couple who are in partnership as husband and wife, as parents, and in their bakery. They are also a couple who are in love with one another. They are a close couple with a long history.

My Thoughts:

I have mixed feelings about this story. There are things I like about the story and things I dislike.

What I like:
1. The setting is in a small town in France.
2. I like the time period: World War II.
3. I like the married couple who are in love with one another. I like the long history they have. They are a respected and admired couple in town.
4. I understand the form of the story. I understand the plot.
5. This story is inspired by a true story.

What I dislike:
1. Andre is a loving husband and father. He is a respectable person. However, he is distraught through most of the story. And he is distracted. And he is at times frozen with the inability to make a decision. His behavior causes an annoyance and angst in me. I wish he had been a take charge person. I wish he’d been aggressive earlier in the story about a well-formed decision and carrying it out. I understand his character as the despondent husband, but I wanted more from him.
2. The story is filled with what if questions. What if a spouse goes missing, and a new character similar to the one missing shows up? What if both female characters are in trouble? What if feelings develop with the new character? What if this new person and the rest of the family bond? What happens if the missing person returns? The story is based on what ifs. What if is the foundation of the story. But it is that question that keeps me reading…that pulls me in.
3. The story does not have a satisfying or solid closure. I think that I know what happens but it ends loosely.
4. I’d like more of Mireille’s story. Her voice is in the first chapter. Emilie finally tells me her story. What about Frederic? I understand he is a child, but I’d like to have an area in the book where he narrates. His testimony is important.
5. For me there is something missing in this story. Yes, one of the characters is missing, but there is something else missing. Is it possible that the tone of the story: a frantic atmosphere of what ifs dominate the story so much that I am not pulled into the individual characters heartaches, fears, and ultimate decisions? Another words: the tone of the story rules.



(Review) The Anglophile’s Notebook by Sunday Taylor

Publisher and Publication Date: Spuyten Duyvil. 2020.
Genre: Fiction. Travel. Romance. Family saga. Contemporary fiction.
Pages: 356.
Format: Paperback.
Source: I received a complimentary paperback copy from Sunday Taylor. I am not required to write a positive review.
Audience: Contemporary fiction/romance readers.
Rating: Good.

For more information about the book @ Spuyten Duyvil.

Amazon
The Kindle Unlimited e-book is free.

Author Info:

Sunday Taylor grew up in Pennsylvania and Connecticut and attended Bates College in Maine. A graduate of the Master of Arts program in English Literature at UCLA, she spent the last four decades in California and currently lives in Los Angeles. Taylor is married with two grown daughters and two granddaughters. She journeys to England every year, reads Jane Eyre every autumn and identifies as an Anglophile. This is her first book.

Website

Summary:

The Anglophile’s Notebook is a literary mystery set in England. Claire Easton travels from Los Angeles to London to research a book on her favorite author, Charlotte Brontë. While seeking Brontë’s secrets, she discovers her own. The Anglophile’s Notebook will whisk the reader away to literary London and the beautifully wild countryside of Yorkshire, home to the Brontë sisters. Brimming with writerly ghosts, enchanting bookstores, cozy pubs, English country gardens, and memorable characters, this novel is for anyone who has found their imagination in the gardens of rural England or a two-hundred-year-old bookstore in London and felt utterly alive.

My Thoughts:

There are things I like about the book and a few things I do not like about the book.

What I like:
1. Claire Easton is a character who is down to earth and easy for me to identify with. She is a regular gal. She is someone I could be friends with. She is a believable character who has positive and negative human traits. Claire is a reader, bibliophile, writer, blogger, book reviewer, and gardener. These interests are the same as mine. Her background and environment might have created a celebrity status type person. Instead, she is a person who is kindhearted, unselfish, long-suffering; and, she’s also a little innocent and vulnerable. I am glad Claire is a mature woman of 42. She has lived long enough to understand a bit about life and how to make wise decisions. Lastly, Claire is a character who has a transformation. This is always a positive experience for me to read a character who has a remarkable change.
2. Charlotte Brontë is the pleasant fixation for Claire. Claire plans to write a book about Charlotte Brontë . The story centers around Claire’s research of the Brontë books, manuscripts, letters, and the town they lived in. Charlotte is the main emphasis, but the other Brontë family members are apart of The Anglophile’s Notebook.
3. The Anglophile’s Notebook is a travel book. For most of the book Claire is in England. She travels back to California a couple of times. While in England she visits museums, bookshops, art and book collections, estates, and the scenery of the Yorkshire Moors. I enjoyed her descriptions and experiences.
4. Claire is close to her only sibling, a sister named, Jane. Their mother died. There is unanswered questions about their mother. There is not a reconciling of the relationship. One of the reasons I continued to read this book is I wanted to know what happened? Claire dreams of her mother. The memories and feelings about her mother are always present for Claire. Claire is still experiencing grief. Grieving takes as long as it takes. There is no time limit. And, because there are unanswered questions, there remains a mystery about their mother. These issues helped to keep me reading.
5. Jane is a praying person. She acknowledges when a prayer is positively answered. However, it is never specifically stated who Jane prays to.
6. I love the secondary characters in the book. It is a lengthy list. It is a diverse list.
7. The conflicts in the story are internal.
8. The main plot is simple.
9. The story is told in chronological or linear form.

What I do not like about the story:
1. The story has a long list of high functioning words and local dialect sayings. I don’t mind a couple of words that I need to look up in a dictionary, but the list grew and grew. The average reader is not going to like this. When a reader has to pause too much to look up a word in the dictionary it breaks the flow of reading. For example, farcical and raconteur.
2. Ben is Claire’s husband. If he were cut completely from the story would it matter? No. He is actually a weight in the story that is not needed because the story is busy with other things going on. When a story is too busy, well it is just too busy, and the reader (me) is worn-out by the heavy traffic.
3. At this time in my life (or in my reading life), I have become bored with much of the romance that is weaved in a story. I don’t have the data that will back up how other readers feel about this topic. I know how I feel. If Claire had focused all her attention on the Brontë research, the traveling, and the mystery surrounding her mother, this book would be remarkable enough. But, Claire’s personal life became a weight and additional plots for the story. Bottom line for me is there are too many things going on in this one book. Just a few would be wonderful.

Themes:
Death and dying, loyalty, self-worth, honesty, redemption, acceptance, kindness, romance, innocence, guilt, wisdom, hope, grief, temptation, empowerment, dreams, and trust.

(Review) The Girl From the Channel Islands by Jenny Lecoat

Publisher and Publication Date: Graydon House Books. February 2, 2021.
Genre: Historical fiction.
Pages: 304.
Format: Paperback.
Source: Self-purchase.
Audience: Readers of historical fiction who enjoy World War II history.
Rating: Okay.

The book is based on a true story.

Amazon

The Girl From the Channel Islands is a first novel for Jenny Lecoat.

Goodreads author page for Jenny Lecoat.

Summary:

1940.
Jersey. The Channel Islands.

Hedy Bercu is a Jewish young woman who escaped Austria and fled to Jersey. She’s been working in the home of the Mitchells. The Mitchells have left Jersey ahead of the expected German invasion. Hedy is left without a job. She cannot stay in their huge home alone. Her best friend is Anton. He has a new girlfriend named Dorothea or Dory.

After the occupation of the Germans. Hedy is able to work as a translator for them. She begins a romantic relationship with a German officer.

Hedy’s knowledge of what is happening to the Jews in Europe is minimal. She knew enough about the Nazi’s to escape Austria, but she doesn’t know what has happened since she left. She fears for her parents.

My Thoughts:

I don’t know how many fiction and nonfiction books I’ve read on World War II history but it is lengthy. It is rare to read about a Jewish person who became involved romantically with a Nazi. I have often wondered what the percentage is of Jewish women who were in romantic relationships with Nazis? It is possible that because this story takes place on the island of Jersey and not mainland Europe, the love story has more believability. I wonder how a Jewish person at this time would view this situation? It is easy for me to say I am not going to be sexually aroused, attracted, or have romantic feelings for the known enemy. But, I am not living in “their” shoes. I am not experiencing this type of situation. And, The Girl From the Channel Islands has not helped me to understand the situation. This is the first reason why I have given this book an okay rating. I am not convinced at their situation, feelings, or plight. I could care less. I care about Hedy. I care about the people of Jersey. I care about what is going on in mainland Europe. I care about what is happening with the Jews. I care about Hedy’s parents and sister. Hedy’s romantic partner is Kurt. I don’t care how cute Kurt is-he is the enemy. I don’t care if he is a little bit of a Nazi. It is nice that he helped Hedy. He is still a Nazi. He is still the enemy.

I love the descriptions of the island, town, and the people. This is a strong feature of the book.

In one brief description of Hedy she is described as a “a pale skinny girl.” She has blonde hair. Her eyes are large. The “color of the sea.” Her description shows me she is vulnerable, but has lovely features. She is some what of a loner. I don’t feel that I really know her as a character. There is little information given about her background. She is not someone who stands out. However, she is the main character. This is a second reason why this book is an okay rating in my view. Her character is not developed.

Hedy works in a minor role of resistance. It is so minor I have forgotten exactly what she was doing. This point is disappointing. Especially since I cannot remember.

Themes in the story: romance, perseverance, loyalty, courage, bravery, kindness, good and evil, survival, peace and war, resistance, trust, temptation, self-control, and hope.