Saturday, May 20, 2017

744 (2017 #42). Goodnight from London

by Jennifer Robson

I really enjoyed this World War II fiction by Jennifer Robson.  Ruby Sutton is an American orphan working for a weekly publication in New York City, who is given the opportunity to go to London as a shared correspondent with another weekly there.

The reader is with Ruby on her trip across the Atlantic in a cargo ship in late June 1940, through the Blitz, and even into France and Paris for its liberation in August 1944, all the way to the end of the war.  As the cover photo implies, there's a little bit of romance for Ruby too, with the enigmatic British officer Bennett.

The blurb on the back of the book stated that it was "inspired in part by the wartime experiences of the author's own grandmother," but my advance reader edition was missing the acknowledgements/afterword that might have had that information.  I was quite curious about it, so I searched for an answer.

Robson clarified in an interview and in a Facebook post:

"My late grandmother, Nikki Moir, was a newspaperwoman, and it was her experiences as a young woman in a male-dominated newsroom that acted as the starting point for Goodnight From London. My heroine, Ruby Sutton, is entirely a product of my imagination – she isn’t at all similar to my grandmother – but I wouldn’t have found Ruby without the inspiration of my gran and her career." "...it was in learning about the obstacles and challenges Nikki faced in her work as a journalist from the 1930s onward that I was inspired to create Ruby.  It really was as simple as asking myself, 'what would it have been like for a young woman journalist in the Second World War?' Ruby is my answer, but Nikki was my inspiration."

The book is well-researched and has believable characters.  Robson has written other fiction set during and after World War I - I'll be sure to read those too.

© Amanda Pape - 2017

I received this advance reader edition through the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program.  It will be passed on to someone else to enjoy.]

Friday, May 19, 2017

743 (2017 #41). The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane


by Lisa See

A bit different from some of Lisa See's other fiction set in China, in that this one takes place in the years 1988 to 2015.  Li-yan, a member of the Akha ethnic minority in the mountainous Yunnan Province in China, is ten years old when the story starts.  The reader learns a lot about Akha customs and beliefs, as well as about tea, especially pu'er, a valuable type of fermented tea.

At 17, Li-yan has a daughter out of wedlock, taboo in her culture, and abandons the baby at an orphanage.  When she later marries the father, they try to reclaim the baby, who of course has been adopted by an American couple, who name her Haley.  Haley's story becomes a theme in the book.  At times, I found parts of Haley's story jarring when it interrupts that of Li-yan, who also sees big changes in her life.  Furthermore, the book's ending feels abrupt and rather predictable.

All in all, I didn't like this book as much as I've liked others by Lisa See, perhaps only because the first two parts of the book (through 1995) read like historical fiction, due to the rural settings.  Part three quickly jumps ahead to 2004 and more modern times in China and elsewhere.  Nevertheless, I'm still glad I read this book.


© Amanda Pape - 2017

[This book was borrowed from and returned to my local public library.]

Sunday, May 14, 2017

742 (2017 #40). The Accidental Empress


by Allison Pataki,
read by Madeleine Maby


This historical fiction is about Empress Elisabeth of Austria, also known as "Sisi," someone I knew little about before reading this book.  It covers the first half of her life, to her coronation in Hungary, with the sequel Sisi: Empress on Her Own (which I plan to read) covering the second half.

Sisi is a very interesting character.  Her older sister Helene was intended to be the bride of their first cousin, Franz Joseph, Emperor of Austria, but when both girls traveled to Austria with their mother, Franz fell in love with Sisi. Hence the title of the book.

Author Alison Pataki presents Sisi as initially being just as much in love, but becoming overwhelmed by her domineering and controlling mother-in-law and aunt, Archduchess Sophie, as well as by court protocol.  Of course, the story is told from Sisi's point of view, but the reader can see that, despite the environment, some of Sisi's choices are not good ones.

Actress Madeleine Maby does a fine job narrating the book - her voice is perfect for Sisi, and she does very well with all the other characters as well.  I very much appreciated the lengthy Q&A with the author at the end of the book (read by the narrator), which clarified what was fiction and what was true.  Pataki's acknowledgments list the books she used in her research.  Little details, such as descriptions of the castles and palaces and surrounding countryside, as well as examples of Sisi's poetry and a mention of the waltz commissioned in her honor, add to the atmosphere.


© Amanda Pape - 2017

[The e-audiobook, and an e-book for reference, were borrowed from and returned to public libraries.]

Saturday, May 06, 2017

741 (2017 #39). Mistress of Rome


by Kate Quinn

I really enjoyed Kate Quinn's soon-to-be-released The Alice Network, so I decided to try one of her other books.  My local library had this one, Mistress of Rome, the first of (so far) four in her Empress of Rome Saga.

Nearly the entire story takes place during the reign of the Roman Emperor Domitian, from 81 to 96 A.D.  Thea, the main character, is a 14-year-old Judean slave at the beginning to another 14-year-old, the vain and selfish Lepida Pollia.  The both fall for the gladiator Arius, a slave from Briton, but Lepida just wants to bed him - Thea actually falls in love.  When Lepida learns of their affair, she sells Thea to a brothel far away. Eventually, Thea catches the eye of the emperor and becomes his mistress, thinking Arius dead.  But of course he's not...

I found this story rather exciting (although a little sickening, with all the gladiatorial bouts).  Thea is a complex character, as is Arius and some of the minor characters, while Lepida is just plain hateful.

Quinn works in a lot of real historical figures into her novel, although given the era and the lack of unbiased information from primary sources of the period, she can take a lot of liberties with the characters - so who knows, for example,  if Domitian was as cruel as she paints him to be.  She does mention five histories she used as references.

No matter.  I was entertained, and I plan to read the rest of the books in the series.


© Amanda Pape - 2017

[This book was borrowed from and returned to my local public library.]