Review: Lana’s War by Anita Abriel

Title: Lana’s War

Author: Anita Abriel

Published: 2nd December 2020, Simon & Schuster Australia

Status: Read January 2021 courtesy Simon & Schuster

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My Thoughts:

Lana’s War is Anita Abriel’s second historical fiction novel set during World War II.

Discovering she is pregnant, Lana Hartmann (née Antanova) hurries through the streets of occupied Paris, anxious to share the happy news with her husband, a music teacher. She is horrified when she finds her husband being questioned by the gestapo and devastated when she witnesses his callous execution while trying to protect a young Jewish girl. Miscarrying their child that same day, Lana staves off despair by volunteering at a convent where she is offered an opportunity to join the resistance. Eager to honour her husband’s sacrifice and save Jews from the Gestapo, Lana accepts and is sent to the Riviera region of France. There Lana is asked to trade on her Russian heritage and, as Countess Lana Antanova, help Swiss resistance member, Guy Pascal, with his efforts to smuggle Jews out of the country.

I like that Abriel has chosen a setting for her novel in an area of France usually overlooked in WWII historical fiction, which tends to favour Paris or the French countryside. Nice, and its neighbours including Cannes, St. Tropez, and Monaco, are part of the French Riviera, on the south east coast of France. Just 30km from the Italian border, Nice was occupied first by the Italians, and then the Germans before being liberated in 1944.

When Lana arrives in November, 1943, she is surprised that the city seems largely unaffected by the war. Unlike in Paris, stores are open and well stocked, and the casino’s, hotels and cafe’s are well patronised, though the place is overrun with German soldiers. Abriel ties the plot of her novel in with the escalation against Jews in the area, where Lana is tasked to learn the timing of upcoming raids, giving them an opportunity to evade being sent to Drancy Internment Camp. I liked the premise which promised adventure, tension and romance, unfortunately the execution fell short for me.

I liked Lana well enough but I didn’t find her to be a particularly consistent or convincing character. While her motivation for her choice to work with resistance is strong, and she’s obviously intelligent, given her education, she doesn’t seem wise enough to be so adept at espionage. It’s also a bit of a stretch that within days of her arrival she has four men essentially in love with her. I did like the romantic attachment Lana formed, but I wasn’t keen on how it played out. Lana’s relationship with Odette, a young Jewish girl, however was lovely.

Unfortunately, despite finding the broad strokes of the the story to be engaging, I thought the prose itself was rather flat, and a touch repetitive. Though I dislike the phrase, I also thought there was far more ‘telling than showing’ and as such, tension rarely eventuated, or fizzled out.

A story of war, vengeance, courage and love, Lana’s War was a quick read, but for me, not a particularly satisfying one.

++++++

Available from Simon & Schuster Australia

Or from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository I Indiebound

Also by Anita Abriel reviewed at Book’d Out

Review: The Lies You Told by Harriet Tyce

Title: The Lies You Told

Author: Harriet Tyce

Published: 1st December, 2020, Grand Central Publishing

Status: Read December 2020 courtesy Grand Central Publishing/Netgalley

++++++

My Thoughts:

The Lies You Told is Harriet Tyce’s second domestic psychological thriller.

Frightened by the recent uncharacteristic behaviour of her husband, Sadie Roper does the one thing she swore she never would and returns to London to take up residence in her late mother’s home. The terms of her mother’s will insists that for Sadie to take occupancy, her daughter, eleven year old Robin, must attend the same elite girl’s school, Ascham, that Sadie did. Sadie has very few good memories of her alma mater, and the events of the first few weeks do nothing to change her mind. The mothers are judgemental and hyper-competitive, and Robin is ostracised and miserable, but until Sadie can relaunch her career as a criminal barrister, mother and daughter have no other options. Just as Sadie can bear no more, the worst school-gate offender, Julia, unexpectedly apologises, and suddenly Sadie, and Robin, find themselves in the inner circle. It’s a relief for Sadie when both Julia, and Nicola, extend their friendship and offer to look after Robin while she is working, but are these really women she can trust?

The main plot of The Lies You Told is focused on the relationship Sadie develops with two Ascham mothers, Julia and Nicola, which begins, and ends, in extremis. There are several dramatic events that play out between the women, and their daughters, and though I felt the motivations were greatly exaggerated, there is a kernel of plausibility at the heart of the tale. Exclusionary ‘school-gate’ mothers are all too real, particularly in a privileged setting, and there are plenty of mothers willing to do almost anything to ensure the success of their children, though thankfully few who are willing to go as far as Julia and Nicola.

The secondary plot is a loose variation on the theme, with Sadie hired on as an assistant to defend a young, white teacher from a ‘good’, wealthy family who is accused of seducing his teenage student. His overbearing mother insists on micromanaging the case and is venomous towards anyone who suggests her son is anything but perfectly blameless. Rather improbably the accused’s father was responsible for a sexual assault against Sadie when she was a law student, adding another layer to the plot, and this, is in addition to the mystery surrounding Sadie’s relationship with her mother, and her husband, feel forced.

Despite all this, the pace of the first two thirds of the book was fairly slow, though to her credit, Tyce does establish, and grow, a tense, foreboding atmosphere, and I was furiously flipping the pages during the final third of the novel, caught up in Sadie’s frenzied behaviour.

Unfortunately though I never really warmed to Sadie. Though she’s obviously under quite a lot of stress from the opening pages of the novel, she makes some unforced gaffes that make her seem like a flake. All I could think, as Julia screamed at her without cause, was that Sadie’s unwillingness to defend herself didn’t bode well for her skills as a barrister. Sadie then goes on to get over involved in the court case she in a part of, and seems to forget her role as a member of the defence. She also makes some decisions with regards to her daughter that didn’t sit well with me, and can’t wholly be blamed on her distress at the time.

While The Lies You Told has some strong and thrilling elements, I have mixed feelings about the story as a whole. Another reader may feel differently.

++++++

Available from Grand Central Publishing

Or from your preferred retailer via Indiebound, Book Depository I Booko

Review: Lucky’s by Andrew Pippos


Title: Lucky’s

Author: Andrew Pippos

Published: 27th October 2020, Picador

Status: Read October 2020 courtesy PanMacmillan Australia

++++++

My Thoughts:

Having recently lost both her job and her husband, Emily is in Sydney from London with an eye to writing a New Yorker feature about the rise and fall of ‘Lucky’s’, once an ubiquitous chain of restaurants/cafes across south eastern NSW.

Lucky Mallios has a plan – to relaunch the iconic restaurant/cafe he lost to a combination of tragedy and gambling in the mid 90’s. Old and broke, he wants to atone for his mistakes, and leave something for the only family he has left.

With a nod to Greek tragicomedy, Lucky’s is a character driven novel about fortunes won and lost, of serendipity and fate. It shifts between the past and present revealing secrets, coincidences, scandals and trauma. It has a kind of charm that comes from the author’s own affection for, and understanding of, his characters.

Lucky and Emily share not only a link to Emily’s late father, but also similar traits. They each struggle with the loss of a loved one, their expectations of themselves, and others expectations of them. I was keen to discover if Lucky would win his fortune, and thus his redemption, if Emily would find success.

Lucky’s is congenial literary debut from Andrew Pippos

++++++

Available from PanMacmillan Australia

Or from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository

Review: I’d Give Anything by Marisa de los Santos

 

Title: I’d Give Anything

Author: Marisa de los Santos

Published: May 12th 2020, William Morrow

Status: Read May 2020, courtesy William Morrow/Edelweiss

++++++

My Thoughts:

I’d Give Anything is a contemporary stand alone novel from Marisa de los Santos, best known for her ‘Love Walked In’ series.

“…sometimes families and worlds, no matter how careful everyone is, no matter how much love, fall apart and there’s not a thing you…can do to stop it.”

As a teenager Ginny Beale imagined that her future would be extraordinary, buoyed by her ‘forever’ friends, Kirsten, C.J., and Gray, she would take risks, have wild adventures, and create art to gift to the world, until tragedy left her dreams in ashes. Two decades later her staid life as a suburban wife and mother falls apart when her husband, Harris, is fired amid a scandal involving a young woman barely older than their daughter, and just days later her terminally ill mother suicides. Forced to reimagine her future in the midst of this upheaval, Ginny is offered a way to reconnect with the girl she once was, and perhaps reclaim all that she lost.

I’d Give Anything is told through diary entries, and the perspectives of Ginny and her fifteen year old daughter, Avery. This is a story that focuses on relationships – those between parent and child, siblings, between lovers, and friends – and explores the limits of their resilience. It features themes of loss, regret, forgiveness, redemption and the courage it takes to be honest with the ones we love.

Santos infuses her main characters with nuance, truth and emotion, and while in frame her minor characters such as Ginny’s mother, Adel, and Gray receive the same treatment.

However I thought the story was a bit messy in places. I felt that the central plot involving the fire that separated teenage Ginny from her brother and friends was well handled, but that ultimately Harris was superfluous in Ginny’s story, and I think this creates flaws in both character and plot which affected my engagement.

In the end my feelings about I’d Give Anything are mixed, which is a shame as I have really enjoyed several of her previous novels which I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend.

++++++

Available from William Morrow

Or from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository I Indiebound

Review: Keeper by Jessica Moor

Title: Keeper

Author: Jessica Moor

Published: March 19th 2020, Viking

Status: March 2020 courtesy Penguin UK/Netgalley

++++++

My Thoughts:

When a young woman’s drowned body is discovered, a lack of markings leads the police to believe their investigation will show she died by suicide. However Detective Whitworth’s curiosity is piqued when he first learns Katie Straw worked at a women’s refuge, and then that her name is an alias.

Keeper unfolds over two timelines, ‘Now’ – which follows the police investigation and in doing so explores the lives of the women in the refuge, and ‘Then’ – which reveals Katie’s history. The latter is an emotionally harrowing tale of a young woman drawn into a relationship with a frighteningly manipulative man.

Keeper centers around a very important topic – that of domestic/intimate partner violence in its many forms. I thought Moor’s portrayal of the issue’s complexity was nuanced and thought-provoking, and her diverse characters, including the detective, represent a spectrum of related perspectives and experiences.

Unfortunately though I didn’t find the execution compelling. The pace is slow, the tension is slight, and I really wasn’t surprised by the final twist designed to shock (though I think it’s likely I’ll be in the minority there). It’s also bleak, which is probably how it earned the literary tag.

In the end I’m a little torn, while I think Keeper is a socially valuable, and even interesting read, I just didn’t find entertaining.

++++++

Available from Penguin Books UK

Or from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository I Indiebound

Review: Wicked As You Wish by Rin Chupeco

 


Title: Wicked As You Wish (A Hundred Names for Magic #1)

Author: Rin Chupeco

Published: March 3rd 2020, Sourcebooks Fire

Status: Read March 2020, courtesy Sourcebooks/Netgalley

++++++

My Thoughts:

 

While browsing for a novel to suit the SwordsNStars challenge, the publicity tagline for Wicked As You Wish by Rin Chupeco caught my attention.

“An unforgettable alternate history fairy-tale series about found family, modern-day magic, and finding the place you belong.”

The story begins in The Royal States of America, where Prince Alexei of Avalon is in hiding from The Snow Queen, waiting until he is found by the Firebird, so that he at last will have the power to renter his lands and claim his throne. When the Firebird finally appears, Alex, along with his best friend Tala – who has a rare ability to repel and negate magic – and a group of other young magic wielders, set out on a dangerous journey to Avalon to reclaim it from the Snow Queen’s deadly magic.

There’s a lot to like in Wicked As You Wish. It offers plenty of fast paced action, a diverse cast of characters, humour, intrigue, and a unique mix of political and cultural elements taken from both the modern world and the world of fairytales and legends.

But the world Chupeco has created is very ambitious and to be honest I struggled to make complete sense of it. Eventually I just had to sort of overlook the finer details and simply go along for the ride.

If you are willing to do the same, I expect you’ll enjoy Wicked As You Wish, as I did, but I think it’s fair to say it won’t be for everyone.

++++++

Available from Sourcebooks

Or from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository I Indiebound

Review: The Light After the War by Anita Abriel

Title: The Light After the War

Author: Anita Abriel

Published: February 1st 2020, Simon & Schuster Australia

Status: Read February 2020 courtesy Simon & Schuster Au

++++++

My Thoughts:

World War II fiction tends to focus on the wartime experiences of German or French Jews, and most often takes place in France, Germany, or the UK. The Light After the War by Anita Abriel has an interesting difference, in that it is set over about two years immediately post war with two main characters who are Hungarian Jews, and primarily takes place in Italy, and later, Venezuela.

Best friends Vera and Edith are barely seventeen when they escape during transport to Auschwitz from Budapest, and find refuge in a small Austrian village for the duration of the war. Eventually the girls make their way to Naples, where Edith, who dreams of becoming a fashion designer, finds work as a seamstress, and Vera is employed by the American embassy as a secretary, and falls in love with her boss, Captain Anton Wight. When Vera’s relationship abruptly ends, the friends are fortuitously offered the opportunity to emigrate to America, but denied entry, they settle in Caracas where they hope to forge a new life for themselves.

I was intrigued by the inspiration for this novel, the main characters of The Light Before the War are based on (and even named for) members of Abriel’s own family. Her mother, Vera Frankel, and best friend, Edith, really did escape a train carrying them to Auschwitz, how closely subsequent events mirror their experiences isn’t entirely clear though Abriel confirms some key incidents (one which in particular shocked me) are true in notes found at the end of the novel.

I was surprised to learn that Venezuela granted asylum to Jews fleeing the Nazi regime and the deprivations of the post-war period. I wasn’t aware of that fact, and was interested to later discover that at its peak the country hosted a community of around 65,000 Jews, (though recent political strife has reduced those numbers considerably).

Unfortunately, despite finding elements of the story fascinating, I found the prose itself rather flat, and the pace largely monotonous, in part I think because of the past-tense narrative used in both the ‘present day’ storyline and the flashbacks. Though I dislike the phrase, I also thought there was far more ‘telling than showing’, and a lack of emotional depth. Resilience is all well and good, but the girls never really seem to be afraid, or even more than mildly anxious, with any obstacles they were faced with too easily overcome.

I’m glad that Abriel was able to share her family’s story, her mother’s survival in such circumstances is a triumph. Though The Light After the War wasn’t as engaging as I hoped for, I agree with the author that tales like these ensure the Holocaust will never be forgotten, and never be repeated.

++++++

Available from Simon & Schuster Australia

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Review: Infinity Son {Infinity Cycle #1} by Adam Silvera

Title: Infinity Son {Infinity Cycle #1}

Author: Adam Silvera

Published: January 20th 2020, Simon & Schuster Au

Status: Read January 2020, courtesy Simon & Schuster Au

++++++

My Thoughts:

Infinity Son is Adam Silvera’s fifth book, but his first foray into the fantasy genre. It’s the beginning of a trilogy titled Infinity Cycle, featuring brothers Emil and Brighton caught up in a magical war.

The physical setting for Infinity Son is based in urban New York, and while the population of Silvera’s fantasy world is human, a small percentage are known as Celestials, who may act as Spell Walkers, whom are born with inherited powers that usually manifest during childhood, or Specters, who may act as Blood Casters, whom gain their abilities with alchemy derived from murdering magical creatures like hydra’s, basilisks or phoenixes.

In New York at least, the Celestials and Specters are enemies, and both groups are generally reviled by the current government, who seek to imprison or control them, so when Emil unexpectedly manifests extraordinary powers in defence of Brighton when attacked by a Specter, the brothers, along with their mother and close friend, are forced into hiding with a group of Spell Walkers.

There are more shocks in store for Emil, and he struggles to accept his new role, especially as the situation with the Specters escalates. Meanwhile Brighton, desperate to contribute, uses his social media savvy in an attempt to restore the Spell Walkers reputation, but the reflected glory is not enough to satisfy him long.

Though Emil and Brighton are the central characters, Infinity Son unfolds from a number of other viewpoints, including Spell Walker, Maribelle, and Ness, a Specter. It’s a diverse cast, which includes male and female queer characters, and persons of colour, who I enjoyed getting to know, but I do think it was perhaps a little ambitious of Silvera to introduce so many. There is a general lack of nuance, where the characters are defined by a single trait, rather than having a well-rounded personality.

The plot is fairly simple, Silvera utilises the familiar ‘chosen one’ trope with the inevitable battles between good vs evil. There’s a touch of sibling rivalry, a suggestion of star-crossed lovers, and unexpectedly for the genre, a whole lot of social media. Infinity Son also offers plenty of action, and the story is generally fast-paced.

To be honest, the magic structure of the world feels like a slightly messy mash up of Harry Potter, X-Men, and (CW channel) superheroes. I think in part this is because Silvera provides very little in the way of exposition, and I struggled at times to connect, and make sense of, the scattered information. I’m fairly sure I figured out the basics, but there were a few elements that remain inexplicable.

Despite its flaws, I did enjoy Infinity Son, and I think the Infinity Cycle trilogy has potential as long as Silvera (or his editor) can rein in the obvious enthusiasm, which is what has led to this somewhat scattershot result.

++++++

Available from Simon & Schuster Australia

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Review: Christmas Shopaholic by Sophie Kinsella

 

Title: Christmas Shopaholic {Shopaholic #9}

Author: Sophie Kinsella

Published: October 15th 2019, Bantam

Status: Read December 2019, courtesy PenguinRandomHouse Au

++++++

I’ve read a few of the books in Sophie Kinsella’s Shopaholic series but it’s been a while. Christmas Shopaholic is the ninth book to feature Becky Brandon (née Bloomwood).

Christmas is Becky’s favourite shopping holiday season, and she’s looking forward to the traditional celebration at her parents home, surrounded by family and friends. When the Bloomwood’s unexpectedly announce they are temporarily relocating to an apartment in Shoreditch, Becky enthusiastically agrees to host instead, and she’s determined that everything will perfect.

Becky is generally charming, if flaky, with good intentions that tend to go comically awry. In this instance, attempting to create the perfect Christmas experience proves a little more challenging than Becky imagines as she pursues everything from the ideal gift for husband Luke, to the latest must have tree decoration, all while trying to plan a menu that will please everyone. Throw in the reappearance of an ex-boyfriend, a stuffy Men’s club who refuses to sell her raffle tickets, and a disapproving Norwegian ambassador, and Becky has her hands full, though she always has time for shopping.

Christmas Shopaholic is a light hearted and uncomplicated read for the festive season.

++++++

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Available from PenguinRandomHouse

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Also by Sophie Kinsella reviewed at Book’d Out

#NonficNov Confessions of a Bookseller by Shaun Bythell

 

Title: Confessions of a Bookseller

Author: Shaun Bythell

Published: November 1st 2019, Profile Books

Status: Read November 2019, courtesy Allen & Unwin

My Thoughts:

Last year I picked up Diary of a Bookseller by Shaun Bythell, the proprietor of a small bookshop in Wigtown, Scotland, but as I was on hiatus I didn’t post a review. To be honest I didn’t find it particularly riveting, but it certainly seemed to capture the reading public’s interest.

Confessions of a Bookseller is presented in the same vein as the first book with a dated entry briefly detailing Shaun’s day in the bookshop, or elsewhere, as well as totals that reveal sales, customer visits, and online orders received and filled. It’s an eye-opening view of the workings of a used/antiquarian book selling business in today’s tough market, a self described curmudgeon, Shaun most often bemoans the vagaries of book buyers, and sellers, the tyranny of Amazon, and the

The eccentric staff of the bookshop includes Nicky, a 40 something year old with a penchant for expired foods, who essentially does as she pleases, and ‘Granny’, an Italian intern of sorts, working in the store for bed and board. Sadly Shaun and Anna’s relationship has ended, but neither the house nor store are ever empty, with an endless stream of tradespeople converting a room in the back of a store into a ‘bothy’ (a spare room for lodgers), friends, and guests in the lead up to the Wigtown Festival.

Somewhat unsurprisingly, the bookshop attracts an assorted group of quirky regulars, including the Mole-Man, Sandy the tattooed pagan, and an old man in a cowboy hat who lurks in the erotica section, as well as tourists and customers who range from the delightful to the querulous, providing quite a few chuckles.

Unfortunately for me the humour doesn’t quite offset the rather dreary minutiae and repetition, so I’m left feeling rather ambivalent about Confessions of a Bookseller, much as I did the Diary of a Bookseller.

+++++++

Available from Allen & Unwin

Or from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository I Profile Books

 

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