Little List of Reviews #6

It’s been a while since I’ve done a little list of reviews! I tend to do this when I only have a few thoughts about a book, it didn’t excite me much, or a myriad of other reasons. Sometimes I also just like to get reviews done and get them off my to-do list! I also am the sort of person who sometimes prefers the shorter review. Give me thoughts, not the plot! These are all super backlist books for me because I’ve had them on my shelves forever.

Little List of Reviews #6Title: The Manual of Detection by Jedediah Berry
Published by Penguin Books
Published: January 26th 2010
Genres: Fiction, Fantasy
Pages: 278
Format: Trade Paper
Source: Purchased
Goodreads

"This debut novel weaves the kind of mannered fantasy that might result if Wes Anderson were to adapt Kafka." --The New Yorker

Reminiscent of imaginative fiction from Jorge Luis Borges to Jasper Fforde yet dazzlingly original, The Manual of Detection marks the debut of a prodigious young talent. Charles Unwin toils as a clerk at a huge, imperious detective agency located in an unnamed city always slick with rain. When Travis Sivart, the agency's most illustrious detective, is murdered, Unwin is suddenly promoted and must embark on an utterly bizarre quest for the missing investigator that leads him into the darkest corners of his soaking, somnolent city. What ensues is a noir fantasy of exquisite craftsmanship, as taut as it is mind- blowing, that draws readers into a dream world that will change what they think about how they think.

One of my professors used this book in one of her mysteries English courses and since I had already graduated, I really wanted to read it after she spoke about it with me over lunch. However, it sat on my shelves for almost three years until I finally picked it up in one of my “I’m going to choose some books I’ve been meaning to read since forever and actually sit down and read them” phases. (If you’re curious, I picked four and have since read three!) I appreciated this for what it does. I hesitate to call it magical realism because that’s Latin American in its roots, so it’s probably more along the lines of fabulism. The Manual of Detection plays with the mystery genre and all its tropes and twists them up and around. I enjoyed it while I was reading it and I read it in a day, but I ultimately found something weirdly lacking with it.

Little List of Reviews #6Title: The Witches: Salem, 1692 by Stacy Schiff
Published: October 27th 2015
Genres: History, Non-Fiction
Pages: 498
Format: Trade Paper
Source: Work
Goodreads

Pulitzer Prize winner Stacy Schiff, author of the #1 bestseller Cleopatra, provides an electrifying, fresh view of the Salem witch trials.

The panic began early in 1692, over an exceptionally raw Massachusetts winter, when a minister's niece began to writhe and roar. It spread quickly, confounding the most educated men and prominent politicians in the colony. Neighbors accused neighbors, husbands accused wives, parents and children one another. It ended less than a year later, but not before nineteen men and women had been hanged and an elderly man crushed to death.

Speaking loudly and emphatically, adolescent girls stood at the center of the crisis. Along with suffrage and Prohibition, the Salem witch trials represent one of the few moments when women played the central role in American history. Drawing masterfully on the archives, Stacy Schiff introduces us to the strains on a Puritan adolescent's life and to the authorities whose delicate agendas were at risk. She illuminates the demands of a rigorous faith, the vulnerability of settlements adrift from the mother country, perched--at a politically tumultuous time--on the edge of what a visitor termed a "remote, rocky, barren, bushy, wild-woody wilderness." With devastating clarity, the textures and tension of colonial life emerge; hidden patterns subtly, startlingly detach themselves from the darkness. Schiff brings early American anxieties to the fore to align them brilliantly with our own. In an era of religious provocations, crowdsourcing, and invisible enemies, this enthralling story makes more sense than ever.

The Witches is Schiff's riveting account of a seminal episode, a primal American mystery unveiled--in crackling detail and lyrical prose--by one of our most acclaimed historians.

The Witches is one dense book, in content and in pages. I grabbed this off the ARC shelf at work forever ago because I enjoy reading about the Salem Witch Trials, but as usual life and other books got in the way. Now that I’m seriously weeding my shelves and my ARCs, I told myself I had to read this one now or let it go. I read the first few chapters and got sucked in to the bizarreness of it all, but it’s very dense and difficult to read at times from a technical standpoint because it almost expects you to have a solid knowledge of Puritan American history. I do find the parallels fascinating though because so much of it is still in practice today in regards to the treatment of women.

Little List of Reviews #6Title: The Girl from the Savoy by Hazel Gaynor
Published by William Morrow Paperbacks
Published: June 7th 2016
Genres: Fiction, Historical
Pages: 419
Format: eBook
Source: Purchased
Goodreads

Presenting a dazzling new historical novel … The Girl From The Savoy is as sparkling as champagne and as thrilling as the era itself.

Sometimes life gives you cotton stockings. Sometimes it gives you a Chanel gown …

Dolly Lane is a dreamer; a downtrodden maid who longs to dance on the London stage, but her life has been fractured by the Great War. Memories of the soldier she loved, of secret shame and profound loss, by turns pull her back and spur her on to make a better life.

When she finds employment as a chambermaid at London’s grandest hotel, The Savoy, Dolly takes a step closer to the glittering lives of the Bright Young Things who thrive on champagne, jazz and rebellion. Right now, she must exist on the fringes of power, wealth and glamor—she must remain invisible and unimportant.

But her fortunes take an unexpected turn when she responds to a struggling songwriter’s advertisement for a ‘muse’ and finds herself thrust into London’s exhilarating theatre scene and into the lives of celebrated actress, Loretta May, and her brother, Perry. Loretta and Perry may have the life Dolly aspires to, but they too are searching for something.

Now, at the precipice of the life she has and the one she longs for, the girl from The Savoy must make difficult choices: between two men; between two classes, between everything she knows and everything she dreams of. A brighter future is tantalizingly close—but can a girl like Dolly ever truly leave her past behind?

I love historical fiction, the Jazz Age, and Hazel Gaynor’s writing, but this story took a while to gain momentum and really pique my interest. I mostly read it on my phone in slow times while out of the house, so I took a little while longer to read this than I do other books. The voices were charming, life at the Savoy and in London were richly described, but the ways in which the characters intertwined with each other just seemed a bit too perfect.

BOOK REVIEW: Park Avenue Summer, by Renée Rosen

BOOK REVIEW: Park Avenue Summer, by Renée RosenTitle: Park Avenue Summer by Renee Rosen
Published by Berkley
Published: April 30th 2019
Genres: Fiction, Historical
Pages: 368
Format: eBook
Source: Netgalley
Goodreads

Mad Men meets The Devil Wears Prada as Renée Rosen draws readers into the glamour of 1965 New York City and Cosmopolitan Magazine, where a brazen new Editor-in-Chief--Helen Gurley Brown--shocks America by daring to talk to women about all things off limits...

New York City is filled with opportunities for single girls like Alice Weiss who leaves her small Midwestern town to chase her big city dreams and unexpectedly lands the job of a lifetime working for Helen Gurley Brown, the first female Editor-in-Chief of a then failing Cosmopolitan Magazine.

Nothing could have prepared Alice for the world she enters as editors and writers resign on the spot, refusing to work for the woman who wrote the scandalous bestseller, Sex and the Single Girl. While confidential memos, article ideas, and cover designs keep finding their way into the wrong hands, someone tries to pull Alice into this scheme to sabotage her boss. But Alice remains loyal and becomes all the more determined to help Helen succeed. As pressure mounts at the magazine and Alice struggles to make her way in New York, she quickly learns that in Helen Gurley Brown's world, a woman can demand to have it all.

Any description about a book that begins with Mad Men and The Devil Wears Prada immediately grabs my attention. Renée Rosen’s Park Avenue Summer lived up to all of my expectations and more. Set in 1965, Park Avenue Summer follows the summer of Alice Weiss, a young woman headed to New York City to do good to her mother’s memory and to have a fresh start. Alice lands a job at Cosmopolitan with the help of her aunt on her mother’s side, and working for Helen Gurley Brown, who wrote Sex and the Single Girl, opens a lot of doors personally and professionally.

One of the things I liked most about this was the attention to detail, Rosen’s ability to bring the past to life and make it fresh and modern, and Alice’s growth from a relatively naive Midwestern girl to a confident woman. Helen Gurley Brown’s take-no-shit attitude helped launch Cosmopolitan from the society magazine it was before to the vibrant, in-your-face magazine we still recognize today. I always tend to forget how much the 1960s shifted public perception of a lot of ideas and behaviors we take for granted today, and Rosen’s story of the fictional Alice Weiss and the very real Helen Gurley Brown makes me want to read more about the history of Cosmopolitan and the publishing industry of New York in the 1960s. Rosen thankfully gives a list of recommended reading at the end of this book that will be incredibly helpful in starting my own research.

I also loved the portrait of New York City Rosen painted in her novel. Rosen captures the cutthroat reality of the city while also maintaining that the city is full of dreams just within your reach if you’re willing to make the effort. NYC is a magical place for me, and I love seeing that balance portrayed so well in fiction. I love stories about women coming into their own, stories about the publishing industry in all its forms, and, of course, stories about New York City, and Renée Rosen’s Park Avenue Summer was the perfect blend of all three. Be sure to check this one out at the end of the month!

Thank you Berkley for sending me an advance digital copy to read and review! All opinions are my own.

BOOK REVIEW: The Island of Sea Women, by Lisa See

BOOK REVIEW: The Island of Sea Women, by Lisa SeeTitle: The Island of Sea Women by Lisa See
Published by Scribner
Published: March 5th 2019
Genres: Fiction, Historical
Pages: 384
Format: Trade Paper
Source: Publisher
Goodreads

A new novel from Lisa See, the New York Times bestselling author of The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane, about female friendship and family secrets on a small Korean island.

Mi-ja and Young-sook, two girls living on the Korean island of Jeju, are best friends that come from very different backgrounds. When they are old enough, they begin working in the sea with their village’s all-female diving collective, led by Young-sook’s mother. As the girls take up their positions as baby divers, they know they are beginning a life of excitement and responsibility but also danger.

Despite their love for each other, Mi-ja and Young-sook’s differences are impossible to ignore. The Island of Sea Women is an epoch set over many decades, beginning during a period of Japanese colonialism in the 1930s and 1940s, followed by World War II, the Korean War and its aftermath, through the era of cell phones and wet suits for the women divers. Throughout this time, the residents of Jeju find themselves caught between warring empires. Mi-ja is the daughter of a Japanese collaborator, and she will forever be marked by this association. Young-sook was born into a long line of haenyeo and will inherit her mother’s position leading the divers in their village. Little do the two friends know that after surviving hundreds of dives and developing the closest of bonds, forces outside their control will push their friendship to the breaking point.

This beautiful, thoughtful novel illuminates a world turned upside down, one where the women are in charge, engaging in dangerous physical work, and the men take care of the children. A classic Lisa See story—one of women’s friendships and the larger forces that shape them—The Island of Sea Women introduces readers to the fierce and unforgettable female divers of Jeju Island and the dramatic history that shaped their lives.

Lisa See’s new book, out March 5, is a stunning story of two women separated by tragedy. Set mostly on Jeju Island before, during, and after World War II, See explores the strength and tribulations of women in all aspects of their lives — from their work as haenyo (deep sea divers), mothers, daughters, sisters, friends — and brings history to life through the lives of two friends: Young-sook and Mjia.

Told through interweaving timelines, from the more distant past of pre- and post-WWII to the more recent past of 2008, See takes us to Jeju Island through the eyes of Young-sook as she grows up, learns to dive and provide for herself and her family, marries, starts a family of her own, and struggles to survive through WWII and its aftermath. It’s a brutal history, devastating from all angles, that See weaves into the life of Young-Sook, but it’s incredibly empowering and a pleasure to read as the book is a testament to the strength and resilience of women.

I will admit, before reading this, I had very vague knowledge of Korea’s involvement in WWII (as I grow older, I realize how much of my history education stopped around the Industrial Revolution at the turn of the century and didn’t seem to focus much on the World Wars or anything after, and this is something I am actively rectifying!), and I no prior knowledge of Jeju Island, the matriarchal culture, and the haenyo. After reading this and being so intrigued by these women’s lives, I definitely want to read more about it. See’s book Snow Flower and the Secret Fan is one of my favorite books of all time. It’s been several years since I revisited her work, and I’m delighted by the relationship between two women and their families in The Island of Sea Women. I now want to go back and read the books of hers I haven’t read yet because I think See is a master at weaving in the personal, private lives of women with extraordinary circumstances in history.

The Island of Sea Women is already one of my favorite books of 2019, so don’t miss it!

Thank you to Scribner Books for sending me a complimentary advance copy to read and review. All opinions are my own.

BOOK REVIEW: The Wolf in the Whale, by Jordanna Max Brodsky

BOOK REVIEW: The Wolf in the Whale, by Jordanna Max BrodskyTitle: The Wolf in the Whale by Jordanna Max Brodsky
Published by Redhook
Published: January 29th 2019
Genres: Fantasy, Historical
Pages: 544
Format: eBook
Source: Netgalley
Goodreads

A young Inuit shaman's epic quest for survival in the frozen lands of North America in 1000 AD.

Born with the soul of a hunter and the language of the gods, Omat is destined to become a shaman like her grandfather. To protect her people, she invokes the spirits of the sky, the sea, and the air.

But the gods have stopped listening, the seals won't come, and Omat's family is starving.

Desperate to save them, Omat journeys through the icy wastes, fighting for survival with every step. When she meets a Viking warrior and his strange new gods, together they set in motion a conflict that could shatter her world...or save it.

The Wolf in the Whale is a powerful tale of magic, discovery and adventure, featuring an unforgettable narrator ready to confront the gods themselves.

Brodsky’s novel, The Wolf in the Whale, was an incredibly immersive read from the get-go. After reading the first few chapters and getting familiar with the setting and the story, I didn’t want to stop reading it. The story follows Omat of an Inuit tribe through their journey across land and through life. I loved the gender fluidity of Omat, and their struggles in finding their identity. When they meet a Norseman named Brandr, Omat struggles even more with their identity and their place in the world at large and in their own personal world.

The Wolf in the Whale is violent, full of terrible things that happen to Omat and their people, and to everyone Omat meets. It’s a reminder that the past was violent in people conquering other people and in people colonizing “new” worlds, and Brodsky doesn’t shy away from any of it. None of what happens to the characters in this book feels like it was thrown in as a plot device. Omat and Brandr felt real, their cultures and mythologies felt immediate and real, and the brutalities of the past balanced with the more tender, personal moments.

I don’t want to give too much away in this review because so much of what happens is so integral to the story, but let it be known that this is a hefty book and once I started reading it, I got hooked and couldn’t put it down. If you enjoy rich, expansive historical fantasies with memorable characters and mythology so real you can almost taste it, don’t pass up reading The Wolf in the Whale.

A complimentary copy of the book was provided to me for review via Netgalley and the publisher. All opinions are my own.

BOOK REVIEW: The Lost Queen, by Signe Pike

BOOK REVIEW: The Lost Queen, by Signe PikeTitle: The Lost Queen by Signe Pike
Series: The Lost Queen Trilogy #1
Published by Touchstone
Published: September 4th 2018
Genres: Fiction, Historical, Fantasy
Pages: 527
Format: Hardcover
Source: Publisher
Goodreads

Mists of Avalon meets Philippa Gregory in the first book of an exciting historical trilogy that reveals the untold story of Languoreth—a powerful and, until now, tragically forgotten queen of sixth-century Scotland—twin sister of the man who inspired the legendary character of Merlin.

Intelligent, passionate, rebellious, and brave, Languoreth is the unforgettable heroine of The Lost Queen, a tale of conflicted loves and survival set against the cinematic backdrop of ancient Scotland, a magical land of myths and superstition inspired by the beauty of the natural world. One of the most powerful early medieval queens in British history, Languoreth ruled at a time of enormous disruption and bloodshed, when the burgeoning forces of Christianity threatened to obliterate the ancient pagan beliefs and change her way of life forever.

Together with her twin brother Lailoken, a warrior and druid known to history as Merlin, Languoreth is catapulted into a world of danger and violence. When a war brings the hero Emrys Pendragon, to their door, Languoreth collides with the handsome warrior Maelgwn. Their passionate connection is forged by enchantment, but Languoreth is promised in marriage to Rhydderch, son of the High King who is sympathetic to the followers of Christianity. As Rhydderch's wife, Languoreth must assume her duty to fight for the preservation of the Old Way, her kingdom, and all she holds dear.

The Lost Queen brings this remarkable woman to life—rescuing her from obscurity, and reaffirming her place at the center of the most enduring legends of all time.

Signe Pike’s The Lost Queen was everything I’d been craving in a historical fiction (with a hint of fantasy) novel. Set in 6th-century Celtic Britain, Pike weaves historical details with Arthurian legends and manages to bring a vivid creation of a young woman’s life to the page. Languoreth is the oft-forgotten twin sister of Lailoken, a warrior and a wisdom keeper who was later known as Merlin. In this first installment of a trilogy, we’re given an insight of Languoreth’s childhood through first love and subsequent marriage, all while the followers of a newly-introduced religion threaten to disrupt life as she and her people know it.

Languoreth and Lailoken are born with gifts and raised in the Old Ways by their mother before her death; and as much as Languoreth would like to follow in her mother’s footsteps as a healer and a wisdom keeper, her father has plans for her to marry to secure an alliance. Even though this novel takes place in the mid-500s, the choices with which Languoreth is faced are immediate, real, and are similar to choices women face today. This first installment in the trilogy is less about Languoreth’s role in Lailoken’s life as it is about her role in becoming a powerful queen, taking charge of the choices she made, and forging her way through a man’s world.

This first novel of a trilogy is rich and engaging, and it sets up for what I hope are brilliant examinations of early Scottish/Celtic life with the invasion of Christianity. I already love the glimpses of day-to-day life in those early courts, and I felt like I was right there next to Languoreth as she experienced everything. I can’t wait to see what happens next with Languoreth, Lailoken, and Pike’s further reimagining of the Arthurian legends. The next one isn’t out until 2020! That’s so far away!! But if you’re looking for something to fill the void between Outlander, Game of Thrones, and Mists of Avalon, definitely check this one out.

Many thanks to Touchstone for sending me a complementary copy to review! All opinions are my own.