(Review) The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir by Jennifer Ryan

The Chilbury Ladies' Choir

Publisher and Publication Date: Crown Publishing Group. February 14, 2017.
Genre: Historical Fiction.
Pages: 371.
Source: Library.
Rating: Good.

Amazon

Summary:
Chilbury, England is the setting for a fictional village of people during World War II. At first, the village choir was going to end. Later, the choir continued on as a ladies’ choir only. Most of the men are away, or about to leave to fight in the war. Five females are the main characters. The story is told through journals and letters.
The female characters are Mrs. Tilling (nurse), Kitty Winthrop (age 13), Venetia Winthrop (age 18), Silvie (10 year old Czechoslovakian evacuee), and Miss Edwina Paltry (midwife). Other women are included in the book, but are secondary characters.

My Thoughts:
Mrs. Winthrop who is the mother of Venetia and Kitty, would have been a wonderful main character. I wanted more of “her” story to be told. She had a cruel husband, an arrogant son, two teenage daughters, and a baby on the way. I was curious about Mrs. Winthrop all through the novel. I wanted more input from her than some of the main characters and I was disappointed by this.
The scheming midwife and her plan is not feasible. I do not believe it is realistic. However, it is a main plot for the book.
Venetia is a tart. I did not like her as a person until later in the story. I’m glad she developed and matured in her character.
My favorite character is Mrs. Tilling. She worked tirelessly to unravel and understand a plot.
The time period is World War II. The war is talked about in regards to its affect of turmoil, fear, and sadness for the village. The loss of life is a present threat.
The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir is a book that’s had strong media coverage. Although I liked the book, it is not a strong like. The main reason is it did not pull at my heart strings, because the story is told through letters and journals. These are written in brief, just a few pages. I didn’t have time to become apart of a character before another character began speaking. The book does not jump back and forth in time like so many fiction books seem to do. However, there are several voices in the book shown in brief chapters all vying for my attention.

 

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(Review) Winter Garden by Kristin Hannah

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Publisher and Publication Date: St. Martin’s Griffin. Paperback edition, 2010.
Genre: Fiction.
Pages: 436.
Source: Self-purchase.
Rating: Good.

Amazon

Summary:
Meredith and Nina are sisters. Their mother is cold, harsh and withdrawn. They grew up hearing fairy tale stories their mother told them. These stories are a mix of nostalgia and mystery for the sisters. Their beloved father was their source of parental affection and intimacy. Their father began an apple business. Later, Meredith took charge of the family business. Nina is a traveling photographer. Her job takes her to dangerous areas in the world. Meredith chose to make a life with her childhood sweetheart. Nina chose a nomadic gypsy life. The two sisters are brought together again after a significant event in the family. The fairy tale stories told by their mother will reveal a sobering reality of their heritage.

My Thoughts:
There are things I like about the book. There are things I dislike about the book.

What I like:
•World War II history through the memories of the mother.
•The mystery element of the fairy tale. Is the tale real or crafted?
•Nina’s vagabond life. Her life is polar opposite of Meredith. Not all siblings choose to dramatically do something different from the other. Each sister’s life brings a sharp contrast to the other. The lifestyles they chose had more to do with what they had and did not have as children. Their insecurities, fears; the inability to talk about hard stuff; a since of loss (something or someone); what they felt gave them a since of belonging and grounding.
•The ending has closure.

What I disliked:
•The fairy tale stories went on and on. In a since, Winter Garden is two stories with two time periods. I’m not a fan of fairy tales and this part I speed read.
•Both sisters are selfish. Both are feeding off something or someone, but not giving anything in return. This part is not significantly reconciled in the book, sort of, but not really.

(Review) Song Of Praise for a Flower: One Woman’s Journey through China’s Tumultuous 20th Century by Fengxian Chu, contributor Charlene Chu

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Publisher and Publication Date: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform. November 2017.
Genre: Nonfiction, autobiography.
Pages: 488.
Source: Complementary paperback copy from Charlene Chu and Author Marketing Expert. I was not required to leave a positive review.
Rating: Excellent.

At this time, the book is free through Amazon Kindle Unlimited: Song of Praise for a Flower. 

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Co-author Charlene Chu, Fengxian’s first cousin, grew up in the United States and wrote the English rendering of Song of Praise for a Flower. A financial analyst well-known for her work on China’s economy and financial sector, she is quoted widely in the Wall Street Journal, Financial Times, Bloomberg, Business Insider and other media outlets. She holds an MBA and MA in International Relations from Yale University. “Song of Praise for a Flower” is her first book. Charlene splits her time between Washington, DC and Hong Kong.

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Back cover shares the summary of book.

Fengxian Chu is now 92 years old. She was born in the 1920’s and this is the start of the book. She began to write out the story of her life in 1989 and completed it in 1992. The manuscript waited for a reading audience until Charlene Chu, a cousin from America, came to visit Fengxian in hopes of finding historical information about her family. Charlene contributed to the book, making historical corrections or filling in the blank on certain events. The book is equal parts written by Fengxian and Charlene. Fengxian is the voice and topic of the story.

Several reasons led me to give Song of Praise for a Flower an excellent rating.

•A detailed life account of the narrator, in both the logistics of living in China during the 20th century, and her thoughts and feelings.

•A brief history of the Hunan Province, including the geography of the landscape. Later, Guangdong Province is less remarked on by way of a history or geography lesson; instead, it is shown in the daily life of the narrator.

•The society and culture in China is a huge overarching theme in the book. There is a lengthy list of various topics under the heading of society and culture but these are a few: foot binding with women, prejudice between the different provinces in China, communism, family saga, relationships between husbands and wives, relationships between parents and children, family history, education, poverty, gender equality versus feudal, and opium addiction.

•An intriguing aspect of the story is communism. Fengxian Chu has (I think this is the right word) “adapted” to communism. She believes in the Communist Party despite the horrors and abuse of the early years. She feels communism has been good for women. Charlene Chu addresses this issue in brief in the “Afterword” section.

•Over a period of years various reforms took impact in China. The Communist Party pushed agricultural reforms, anti-religious reforms, education reforms, and the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution. All of these are explored in the book.

•Another interesting aspect of the story is the beliefs of luck, good fate or bad fate, good is rewarded and evil is punished.

Song of Praise for a Flower shows the remarkable life of Fengxian Chu. She represents Chinese women during this period who survived (and also died) during the horrors of the Japanese threat of 1930s and World War IIthe war between nationalists and communistscommunism, a changing society and culture, and extreme poverty.

“Now, in the final season of my life, I see that each of us is given only one chance at life. We must take advantage of every opportunity that life presents. For when we do not truly live, life loses its meaning.” Fengxian Chu.

pearl river

Pearl River in China

(Review) Irena’s Children: The Extraordinary Story of the Woman Who Saved 2,500 Children From The Warsaw Ghetto by Tilar J. Mazzeo

Irena's Children

Publisher and Publication Date: Simon and Schuster/Gallery Books paperback. 2017.
Genre: Nonfiction, Poland, World War II, Holocaust.
Pages: 352.
Source: Self-purchase.
Rating: Excellent.

I’d first heard of Irena Sendler after watching a film titled, The Courageous Heart of Irena Sendler.

There is a project and film about Irena’s life: Life in a Jar

Summary:

Preface: Page xii. But while Irena Sendler was undeniably a heroine-a woman of immense, almost unfathomable moral and physical courage-she was not a saint either. To make her a saint in the telling of her story is, in the end, to do a kind of dishonor to the true complexity and difficulty of her very human choices…She was at once a heroine-although she disdained that word, too-and a flawed and average person.

All humans are “flawed and average.” A hero is someone who is ordinary in every way yet rises to the challenges set before them. The challenges set before Irena were immense. She was given an opportunity, and because of her career, to make a difference in the lives of children. Some people would have said no. Irena said yes.

Irena Sendler was age 29 when Nazi Germany attacked Poland in 1939. She was married and had a boyfriend. Irena was not Jewish. She had grown up with Jewish friends and neighbors. Most of her friends were not religious. They were educated leftist thinkers. She was a social worker. During the war she became involved in the underground network of helping Jews survive. Irena specifically worked to help Jewish children escape and survive the Holocaust.

My Thoughts:
One of the few things I disliked about the book was Mazzeo’s direct quote I gave. I don’t believe it was necessary to state Irena was a “flawed and average person.” However, I believe this was stated to show one of the elements of the book: Irena was a normal person who became a heroine by rescuing Jewish children during the Holocaust. I believe the story itself showed me the kind of person and character of Irena.
What I loved about the book:
1. I was given a broad and detailed view of the city of Warsaw-it’s people specifically.
2. The book gave me a view of the Jewish people I’d not seen before in other stories. For example, the Jews are not a 1 type people. They are as varied as any other people group. Some Jews are orthodox, some are educated, some had businesses, some were intellectuals; and some had Jewish blood in their ancestry but did not consider their religion to be Jewish. Some of the Jewish people were not religious at all, and were leftist thinkers leaning towards communism.
3. The events leading up to and during the invasion of Poland by Nazi Germany.
4. The network system of getting children out of the Warsaw Ghetto.
5. The individual stories of those children Irena helped.
6. Irena’s story showed me the immense task, suffering, brutality, fear, and betrayal of what she endured, as well as the other people who worked to save the Jews.
7. The after affects of surviving the Holocaust is looked at in brief. The two stories shared gave a great impact on this aspect.

 

 

(Review) The Alice Network by Kate Quinn

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Publisher and Publication Date: William Morrow, An Imprint of HarperCollins Publishers. June 6, 2017.
Genre: Historical fiction, World War I, Post World War II, Spy Story.
Pages: 503.
Source: Self-purchase.
Rating: Excellent.

Amazon

Summary:
In 1915, Eve Gardiner joins a spy network, based in France, against Germany. World War I began a year prior. The spy network she is apart of is called the Alice Network.
In 1947, Charlie St. Clair is a young college student. She is pregnant and unmarried. Her parents send her to Europe, accompanied by her mother, to take care of the problem.
While in Europe Charlie is hopeful she can find her cousin, Rose, who has been missing since World War II. After arriving in England, Charlie breaks free from the constraints of her mother and meets Eve. She is hoping Eve will help her find Rose. At this point in life, Eve is a troubled woman, and Charlie will need courage to just talk to Eve.

My Thoughts:
I love this story!
Eve and Charlie are strong characters. Both are frayed women with big problems. They are far from being the stereotypical female characters in books. I feel the author gave each woman imperfections in order to make them stand out in memory as women who are imperfect, messy, and real. However, both of the women are courageous, gutsy, and fiery.
In The Alice Network, I saw the affects of war on civilians. There is a small story told by a survivor in a French town. The story is from World War II. Her story is a horrific reminder of what the Nazi’s did to ordinary people who were caught in their murderous grip. I also saw what civilians did to profit from the war. These people took sides in order to make money and earn a temporary power. I also saw the affects of the war on women. For example, women who became spies to help their country or women who were trying to survive during a time of war.
For both Eve and Charlie, they have pasts to process. In a way, they are both pregnant with the possibilities of new life. But their past lives held disappointments and sadness. It is important for them to deal with what happened before moving on in a new life. The process they go through is an adventure for them and the reader.
The Alice Network is a wonderful story. I enjoyed reading it from cover to cover.