Tag Archives: historical fiction

Review: Universe of Two

Recap: In the time of war with her father and brother serving their country, Brenda remains at home in Chicago with her mother and the organs shop they own. Business is slow and feelings are dulled. Until Charlie walks in. His interest in organs and Brenda excite her in a way other boys haven’t. He’s not the most generically handsome, but there’s something about that Charlie. And Brenda is not the only one who notices.

Charlie stands out professionally as well. After an on-and-off again rocky relationship, Charlie has no choice but to leave for Los Alamos on a top secret mission for which he’s been recruited. His math and engineering skills are simply too good to go to waste.

Universe of Two tells the story of Brenda and Charlie, who much later learns that he’s working to build the detonator for an atomic bomb as part of the Manhattan Project. It’s governmental information he must keep from Brenda. While he keeps his work close to his chest, she keeps her feelings about Charlie close to hers. As times passes, they question their relationship, their work, their purpose and what really matters in life.

Analysis: Universe of Two bridges the gap between a war-focused historical fiction story and a romance story with the precision of the Manhattan Project engineers themselves. Each chapter flips back and forth between Brenda and Charlie as narrators. Where I thought I’d be lost by Charlie’s story and the mathematics of it all, I felt equally compelled by his story as I did Brenda’s. Charlie is suffering through so much guilt and shame about his work, and Brenda is clobbered with loneliness, indecision and pride.

It wasn’t until I finished the book that I learned Charlie’s character is based on a real man, Charles Fisk. This is truly my favorite kind of historical fiction as of late. It makes the story that much better when you know there are at least hints of truth woven throughout it. Author Stephen P. Kiernan also weaves beautiful prose, which really threw me for a “just a fiction novel.” (I’ve been reading so much nonfiction lately and been so inspired by the quotes I’ve pulled from them, I’ve started to question whether fiction could hold up in the same way; as it turns out, it can.) On page one, I was blown away by “It turns out the greatest kinds of strength are hidden, and move slowly, and cannot be stopped by anything until they have changed the world.” Damn.

The ending and epilogue felt a little rushed. The book was so journey-driven that by the end, I wanted more details about the outcome. But maybe I just didn’t want the book to end. And maybe the Kiernan’s point is that life is all about the journey after all.

MVP: Charlie. Brenda is wild and fun and complicated, but she’s often mean. And she knows it. Charlie lack confidence and may not be the most intuitive to say the least, but he is smart and full of love in a humble, soulful way. The reader understands what Brenda saw in him.

Get Universe of Two in hardcover for $27.99.

Or on your Kindle for $14.99.

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Lara’s Top Picks of 2019

I couldn’t let the new year (and decade!) begin without my favorite blog edition…my top picks of 2019! Fair warning: this year life really took hold. Suffice to say, I didn’t read nearly as much as I usually do or would like to. But I read enough to select my 10 favorites! This is a list of the best books I personally read, not necessarily books that were released in 2019. For a list of those, here you go.  At the bottom, I’ve also included the complete list of books I read this year.


10. Before We Were Yours – This historical fiction novel showcases the awful beginnings of child adoptions in the United States. Its time jumps and changing narrators add suspense to the story of little Rill, who does everything she can to keep her family in tact when Tennessee Children’s Home Society (a real place in an otherwise made-up story) does everything it can to disrupt that for money.

9. The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck – It’s the anti-self-help self-help book. The book that tells you it’s not a self-help book and it’s going to tell you all the opposite things from a regular self-help book. And that’s kind of true. Which is why it’s so effective. A lot of my takeaways from this massive bestseller is that author Mark Manson relies on a lot of Buddhist methodology to explain how best to live your life – with the understanding that life is suffering and once we accept that, things can start to be a little better. Prepare for some foul language and real talk truths.

8. Not That Kind of Girl – Writer/director/actress Lena Dunham shares her life in this messy memoir made up of short stories and essays, unveiling the depths of her anxieties, neuroses and mental health issues as well as just being honest about what it is to be a girl and woman in the modern world. Some stories are sad, some are hilarious riots, but all are well-told, vulnerable, and bluntly honest.

7. How to Read Literature Like a Professor – This how-to for making literally any book better is divided into themes and symbols to explain what matters in a story and what it means. Chapters focus on anything and everything from the significance of ill characters in books to Bible references to food and sex and seasons. Most of the examples were from books and literature I haven’t read BUT the writer explains everything so well that it’s not only changed how I understand and appreciate books, it also applies to TV, film and pretty much any creative medium. A true game-changer.

6. Wherever You Go, There You Are – Author Jon Kabat-Zinn book on the power of meditation is a simplistic, effective how-to for those who have been meditating for years and those looking to start a regular practice. He’s science-based, but instead of constantly throwing facts, studies and research at the reader, he shared personal anecdotes and understandable metaphors to make meditation manageable. 

5. Mistress of the Ritz – Melanie Benjamin does it again, choosing real people in history whose stories have remain mostly untold and telling them, with her own fictionalized dialogue and writing. This one is set in 1940’s Paris during WWII. It tells the story of a real couple, Claude and Blanche Auzello, who lets their marriage waiver as they focus on saving Jews during the Holocaust.

4. The Storyteller’s Secret – This fictional tale about love and love lost starts after modern-day Jaya has another miscarriage and separates from her husband. On a search for connection and answers to life’s questions, she travels to her family’s native India. During the course of the book, her story and her grandmother’s intertwine in a beautiful, heartbreaking and heartwarming way.

3. The Light We Lost – I went back and forth on where to rank this one because I loved it so much. The romance of two young people in NYC during 9/11 continues over the next 13 years. It is gripping, tragic, romantic, sexy. I can’t remember the last time I wanted to finish a book and simultaneously not want it to end so badly.

2. The Girls in the Picture – I was halfway (or more?) through this book before I realized this wasn’t only historical fiction about the beginning of the film industry in America in the early 1900s. It was also historical fiction about a real actress and female screenwriter who were friends. This film story that’s really about friendship and feminism detail the lives and careers of Frances Marion and Mary Pickford in a way that’s fun and dramatic.

1. The Four Agreements – Simple, but not easy. This big-time bestselling nonfiction quick read give you the basics everyone can and should follow to live a better, happier life. There are four agreements you must make with yourself. They sound simple enough, but life makes it really hard to make them easy. This book details the how and why. Once you read it, it is truly life-changing.

BOOKS I’VE READ 2019

The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Peronsal Freedom – Miguel Ruiz

One More Thing: Stories and Other Stories – B.J. Novak

The Storyteller’s Secret – Sejal Badani

Goodbye, Vitamin – Rachel Khong

The Girls in the Picture – Melanie Benjamin

Wherever You Go, There You Are: Mindfulness Meditation in Everyday Life – Jon Kabat-Zinn

The Light We Lost – Jill Santopolo

Not That Kind of Girl: A Young Woman Tells You What She’s “Learned” – Lena Dunham

Stinky Tofu: A Comedic Novel – Ross Henry Nodell

Mistress of the Ritz – Melanie Benjamin

Then She Was Gone – Lisa Jewell

Unqualified – Anna Faris

Before We Were Yours – Lisa Wingate

The Subtle Art of Not Giving A Fuck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life – Mark Manson

How To Read Literature Like A Professor – Thomas C. Foster

Dead If You Don’t – Peter James

Dietland – Sarai Walker

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Review: Before We Were Yours

Recap: The location is a hospital in the South. The time is the 1930s. The twins delivered did not fare well. The parents are destroyed.

And now here we are, in present day, following the life of Avery Stafford. The 30-something lawyer is used to living in the limelight of her father and his long political reign. But now he is sick, and she is forced to prepare to take his spot in politics as he also deals with an ongoing scandal involving nursing homes. In visiting her grandmother at one, Avery meets another elderly woman who is completely taken with her. A misplaced bracelet and a curious family photo forces Avery to return to the woman as she itches to learn more about her and whether this woman is somehow connected to her own family.

Now we are back to the 1930s, and Rill Foss is left in charge of her brother and sisters after their parents rushed to the hospital. Living on the river in Tennessee, they are now orphans as their parents never return. They are scooped up and taken in by the Tennessee Children’s Home Society orphanage, and they face every form of abuse: verbal, physical, sexual. Living in a constant state of fear, Rill feels compelled to take care of her siblings, but there’s only so much a 12-year-old girl can do.

The stories of Rill and Avery intertwine more and more throughout Before We Were Yours in a beautiful and mysterious way, but it’s the fact that this historical fiction novel is based on true events from the real horrors of adoption in the 1930s that make this book so haunting.

Analysis: One of the characters we come to know in the book is the woman who run’s the Tennessee Children’s Home Society, Georgia Tann. But Georgia Tann was a real woman, known for having made adoption in the United States an industry and for charging families an exorbitant amount of money for adopting children. These children were bought and sold, practically as a form of slavery and treated traumatically in the process.

Author Lisa Wingate tells this story through the lens of a little girl during the time and through the eyes of a present-day woman who, like many of us, had no idea any of this was happening in the 1930s.

Despite the horrors, Wingate does an excellent job of keeping the reader invested in the characters, curious about what happens next and still manages to offer hope through the love we see shine through her characters. Before We Were Yours takes a bit of time to get into, but once you start to put together the pieces of the puzzle and realize that Rill and Avery and the old woman she meets are all connected, the journey to get there is worth every word.

MVP: Rill. She has been through so much and has been forced to grow up very fast at a very young age. She has no choice. But she does it with vigor and comes out on the other side.

Get Before We Were Yours now in paperback for $10.29.

Or get it on your Kindle for $12.99.

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Review: Mistress of the Ritz

Recap: The year is 1940. The place is Paris, France at the Ritz Hotel, one of the most beautiful, extravagant and famous hotels in the world. Claude and Blanche are at odds with each other and the world. Fear envelops both of them as the war takes its firm grip on more and more of Europe. For so long, they lived a life of luxury living at the Ritz with Claude as the hotel manager and Blanche, his wife, gossiping among the wildly famous authors and artists who stayed there. Their marriage was never as strong as the confidence they portrayed separately.

The Nazis are taking over the hotel. Claude no longer runs the place. He must bend to the ways of the Germans and bow before their boldness. Blanche is in fear everyday, wondering what comes next while simultaneously loathing her adulterous husband. So she spends time with her friends, people like Lily, who Claude has come to vehemently dislike over the years.

Out of fear and anger and a need to do something – anything – to fight for her future, Blanche takes her own steps toward battling back against the Nazis, not knowing that her husband is doing the something similar. The lies increase in number but they also stem from good intention and a desire to better their lives.

Analysis: After reading another Melanie Benjamin book so recently, I was thrilled to start Mistress of the Ritz. I had already become familiar with Benjamin’s style of rotating narrators, strong female characters, historical fiction and varying timelines. But when I started Mistress, I was surprised to find this one wasn’t so female-driven. One of the narrators was a man. Would I like this partially-male centric novel as much? Especially when Blanche and Claude were so at odds with each other, so unlikeable initially and so spiteful? It took a few chapters, but yes.

Once Benjamin outlines some of the backstory between Blanche and Claude – their whirlwind meet-cute and wedding, their crazy honeymoon shenanigans and the ongoing issues between them – we start to understand why they are the way they are. And when the story takes a turn, offering solace to both of them via fending off Nazis, the true beauty of their personalities and relationship come to life.

Once again, Melanie Benjamin finds an already incredible TRUE story (Blanche and Claude Auzello were, in fact, real people who used the Ritz to assist the resistance against the Nazis) and finds a way of making it modern and relatable through her depth of characters and their relationships with each other. This is a story that’s 80 years old and not well known, and with the sentiment of a strong women finding her voice in the midst of turmoil, it Mistress reads as 2019 as anything.

MVP: Blanche. Not the most likeable initially, she uses her innate skills, talent and personality to find power in the most troubling times. Her growth and character development are a thing of beauty.

Get Mistress of the Ritz in paperback now for 17.38.

Or get it on your Kindle for $13.99.

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Review: The Girls in the Picture

Recap: It’s the early 1900’s and Frances Marion isn’t sure what she wants, but she knows what she doesn’t want. She no longer wants to be married to a man she doesn’t live in San Francisco, a city that does nothing for her. So she moves to Los Angeles just as the movie industry starts to develop. She is fixated on somehow being a part of the world of cinema, but isn’t sure how. Until she meets Mary Pickford. And that’s when everything changes. 


The two quickly become best friends. Mary works toward a career in acting, while Frances soon finds herself writing screenplays. In the 1910’s and 1920’s, they are unicorns: women in the film industry. But they have the support of each other to keep working toward their dreams. They promise to never let men get in the way of their friendship. 


But it’s a promise made at too young an age to keep. When Mary falls in love with an already-married actor and Frances finds the perfect husband, Mary and Frances begin judging each other and the choices they’re making. As they stop supporting each other personally, they stop supporting each other professionally too. But will the different directions their lives are taking them ultimately bring them back together?


Analysis: I knew this was a historical fiction novel from the beginning, but didn’t know until midway through the book when author Melanie Benjamin started name-dropping other celebrities that Mary Pickford and Frances Marion were real women, and this was their true story, written in a fictionalized view, making the story all the more interesting. 


But more than anything else, the story is relatable. Every woman goes through ups and downs, even with their closest girlfriends. Every woman goes through ups and downs professionally. It’s a timeless story of women trying to balance friendship, work and love in modern times.


But their story is also timely. Historical fiction has a way of showing us how much and how little things have changed over the years. The film industry has changed immensely since it began in the 1910’s. All movies are “talkies” now, and shot in color and digital and the list goes on and on. But the #MeToo era proves that the painful experiences that women in film face — sexual harassment, pay disparity and lack of respect, power and opportunity — live on even after more than 100 years. 


Both tragic and beautiful, The Girls in the Picture gripped me so deeply, I couldn’t stop talking about it or recommending it to any woman or any fan of movies. 


MVP: Frances. Though stubborn in her ways and often judgemental, she is far more realistic than Mary about her role in the world. That gives her the ability to see clearly and realize when she has to take a step back from certain parts of her life. 

Get The Girls in the Picture in hardcover for $12.08.

Or get it on your Kindle for $12.99.

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Lara’s Top Picks of 2018

20181231_144316.jpgWelcome to my eighth edition of “Top Picks!” Easily one of my favorite blog posts of the year, this is where I tell you about the ten best books I read this year. Again, this has nothing to do with what year they came out. In fact, I’m pretty sure only one of the books I read this year was published in 2018. For a list of the best books published this year, check out The New York Times annual Notable Books list. For now, here are the best books I read this year (followed by the complete list of all the books I read this year).

10. Option B by Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant. After my dad passed away, this was the perfect book to help me out of my slump and come to terms with my grief. Sheryl Sandberg is not just a Facebook COO here. She is a woman navigating loss like so many of us have. If she can do it, we all can, especially with her tactile, concrete advice. Buy it now. 

9. The Lost Family by Jenna Blum. It’s a novel that spans 30 years and three generations of a Jewish family in New York and New Jersey in the years post-WWII. The patriarch lost his first family in the war and starts a new one with an aspiring model. It’s a book that I really enjoyed when I read it, but since I finished it, I simply can’t stop thinking about it. Buy it now.

8. One More Time by Carol Burnett. Both an in-depth look at the iconic comedianne’s life and a book about life lessons, One More Time is a memoir that almost feels like a self-help book. There is so much to be learned from this strong woman who overcame trauma, failure and poverty to become the icon she is today. Buy it now.

7. Cujo by Stephen King. It’s scary to think that it took me this long to read a Stephen King novel (yes, it was my first!!), but everyone told me this was one of his best and it did not disappoint. More thriller than horror, Cujo brilliantly jumps between characters I legitimately cared for while making a dog scary to me for the first time in my life. The ending is something to be both celebrated and mourned — a bittersweet juxtaposition that makes the read all the more complicated and engrossing. Buy it now.

6. 10% Happier by Dan Harris. Dan Harris single-handedly got me interested in meditation, but it took me several years to finally read his book. Both memoir and self-help (is this a common theme here?), 10% Happier makes a case for changing yoru life and through meditation — even for the skeptics — while also telling tales of the fascinating network newsman life he leads. Buy it now.

5. Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan. Set on reading it before seeing in the theater, I had high hopes for this one, and it surpassed them all. It was more than just a romantic story or an Asian story. It was also a funny store! So tongue-in-cheek in its prose and dialogue, it was a long book that turned into a quick read, and I’ve never been more excited to read a sequel. Buy it now.

4. Julie and Julia by Julie Powell. Julie Powell needed something in her life. She surprised herself by finding it in Julia Child’s famous cookbook. So she set her sights on cooking the entire book in a year’s time. The book details the true story of Powell achieving this crazy and kind of obnoxious goal, even while it tears much of the rest of her life to shreds. She is a hilarious writer who had me laughing out loud. But she also learns a lot about life and herself through the process, and so do we. Buy it now.

3. The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein. A story from the point of view of a dog, Racing is a more dramatic tale than I expected. But it’s refreshing perspective gives us hope in both dogs and humanity, proving that there is nothing more important than the bonds of friendship and family. It’s a grand story about life trapped in a doggie fiction novel in the most beautiful way. It left me breathless. Buy it now.

2. Call Me By Your Name by Andre Aciman. After seeing the sexy movie that so deeply resonated with me in its portrayal of first love, I found myself wanting more so I picked up the book the movie was based on. I was pleasantly surprised to find that the book is even better than the movie with more details, more sexiness, more teenage uncertainty and more finality. Oh, and the prose is supreme. Buy it now.

1. You Are A Badass by Jen Sincero. As I turned 30, I thought a self-help book would help me better round the corner. What I found in Badass is a swift kick in my badass that left me empowered. Jen Sincero’s real-talk and tangible tips allow for a true journey in confidence-building and goal-setting unlike I’ve ever experienced before. Buy it now.

Here’s a link to the New York Times 100 Notable Books of 2018. 

BOOKS I’VE READ 2018

In the Studio with Michael Jackson – Bruce Swedien

Damned Good- J.J. DeCeglie

Wonder – R.J. Palacio

Julie and Julia – Julia Powell

A Wrinkle In Time – Madeleine L’Engle

Call Me By Your Name – Andre Aciman

Soul Witness – William Costopoulos

Option B – Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant

A Load of Hooey – Bob Odenkirk

Emma – Jane Austen

Cujo – Stephen King

Ann M. Martin – Margot Becker R.

The Last Dropout – Bill Milliken

How to Love the Empty Air – Cristin O’Keefe Aptowicz

Strangers – Nigel Gray

Notorious R.B.G. – Irin Carmon

One More Time – Carol Burnett

On Becoming Fearless – Arianna Huffington

The Art of Racing in the Rain – Garth Stein

Choose Your Own Autobiography – Neil Patrick Harris

10% Happier – Dan Harris

The Gene Guillotine – Kate Preskenis

You Are a Badass – Jen Sincero

Crazy Rich Asians – Kevin Kwan

The Lost Family – Jenna Blum

Sharp Objects – Gilian Flynn

A Simple Favor – Darcy Bell

The Hate U Give – Angie Thomas

To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before – Jenny Han

The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter – Carson McCullers

The Day The World Came to Town – Jim DeFede

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Review: The Bookworm

51mmaglqrll-_sx329_bo1204203200_Recap: She’s lovingly called “The Bookworm” by her friends, but Lara Klimt is more than just a nerdy bookworm. She’s a Russian historian and former Soviet chess champion who suddenly finds herself attempting to solve a mystery that landed in her lap — a mystery dating back to the 1940’s during the rise of Adolf Hitler. She must listen to six recordings from a then-famous actor and playwright who — unbeknownst to her and…well…most people — was secretly a British agent reporting to Winston Churchill. All this coincides with her being asked to interview the U.S. President live on Russian television.

If something smells funky, it most likely is. Lara works to unravel the mystery of these tapes, trying to figure out how it connects to today while also trying to keep her distance from the man who sought her out for the Presidential interview.

AnalysisThe Bookworm packs a punch similar to that of a Dan Brown novel. Similarly it uses a quasi-historical fiction plot mixed with thriller that sees our heroine attempt to solve a mystery by using her mind more than her actions. Combine that with the back-and-forth between the 1940’s and present day and The Bookworm has all ingredients in the recipe for my favorite kind of books. It held up until the last third of the book. Maybe it was my own personal lack of knowledge of Britain’s role in WWII or maybe it was the abundance of foreign character names, but eventually I got some of the storylines crossed and was confused as to the intent of some of the characters.

The end seemed to wrap up rather quickly and the reconciliation between Lara and her ex seemed far-fetched, especially after the novel made it clear from the beginning that he was never kind to her. I would have preferred to hear more from the WWII-era tapes to better understand how everything came together.

MVP: Lara. Her brilliance still shines throughout the novel — albeit maybe not in the romance department. Even when she seems unsure of how to crack the historical case, she realizes what she needs to do to achieve a breakthrough. Her mind is steady and her bookworminess pays off.

Get The Bookworm  in hardcover for $17.07. 

Or get it on your Kindle for $12.99.

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Review: When the Future Comes Too Soon

51locs0rbnl-_sy346_Recap: World War II is taking over the talk, minds and happenings of British Malaya, and the people there are starting to fear for their lives. Young mother Mei Foong realizes things are heating up once Malaya is bombed. As the war worsens and the family must temporarily flee their home for safety, Mei Foong gets to know several other families from her town, including a man named Chew Hock San, who makes her feel things she’s never felt before. But Mei Foong is also married with four children and a fifth on the way. Her relationship with her husband is not ideal. She provides children and a wealthy status for him, and he provides financially for her, but the chemistry has dwindled over the years.

Mei Foong and her family are able to return home, but soon after that, the Japanese take over. People are getting killed, the prices of good skyrocket and Mei Foong’s husband becomes sick. He must go to a hospital far away where he can get the care he needs, but while he’s gone, Chew Hock San starts popping up yet again, offering to help Mei Foong with whatever she needs. The mixture of her fear of the war, her sick husband, her desire for Chew Hock San and her love for her children push Mei Foong to the limit in a time of desperation.

Analysis: As a person who loves World War II novels, I couldn’t put this one down. It’s a war story I’d never heard before; it wasn’t about the Holocaust or Jewish people being persecuted. To read about another persecuted group’s experience, the Malayans, and the evil they faced was eye-opening. More interestingly, Mei Foong’s family wasn’t directly impacted by the war in terms of being killed or tortured. In fact, in many respects, her family was one of the lucky ones — and yet, the war still so badly severed her family and relationships with others. It’s proof that WWII did more than just kill people; it caused an astronomical amount of stress that affected people in unexpected ways. Fresh perspective on something that happens 75 years ago isn’t easy to do, but it’s done here.

MVP: Mei Foong. For a wife who at first is so submissive, Mei Foong ultimately stands up in the only way she can. Because of this decision, her life does not go the way she wanted or planned, but her strength and stubbornness in her decision is undeniable and awe-inspiring.

Get The Future Comes Too Soon in paperback for $10.25.

Or get it for free on Kindle Unlimited.

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Review: The Tumbling Turner Sisters

Screenshot 2016-05-22 at 11.56.59 AMRecap: Winnie and Gert come from an already poor family, but they’re about to be poorer. Thanks to their father’s drunken mishap and hand injury, he can no longer work in the factory where he’s employed, and now they, their mother, their two other sisters and baby nephew must find a way to keep going and pay the rent. Their older sister, Nell is too busy caring for her baby and too depressed over the loss of her husband to help. Their younger sister is still in school. But their mother is all too resilient to let the family fall apart. It’s the early 1900s. The solution is easy. Become a travelling vaudeville act. And that’s exactly what the sisters do.

They practice their tumbling and find an agent who books them gigs throughout Upstate New York. Along the way, Winnie meets a wonderful man who, unfortunately for her mother and her bias, is an Italian immigrant from Boston. His younger sister and Winnie’s younger sister become close friends as well. But Gert, the voluptuous older sister, falls for a black man, a fabulous tap dancer who performs in shows with them. Their love is kept secret for fear they would get in trouble. But a racially-induced misunderstanding eventually forces him to leave the show and escape, leaving Gert in shambles.

And as The Tumbling Turner Sisters continue travelling, adding things to their act and becoming bigger and better, it becomes harder or even impossible for Winnie and Gert to keep in touch with the men they love. They are finally reaching a state of comfort financially and emotionally until one tragic event changes everything. The girls start to realize vaudeville may not be forever, but where will The Tumbling Turner Sisters turn next?

Analysis: A story about four sisters growing up, working together, encouraging each other and trying to find their way in life, The Tumbling Turner Sisters is like a vaudevillian version of Little Women — a correlation made just a little too obvious with the author’s mention of the American classic within her own novel, as Winnie attempts to read Little Women, but is bored with it.

I suppose by contrast, The Tumbling Turner Sisters is more exciting than Little Women (though I will always love that book), and the narration helps with that. Each chapter goes back and forth between narration by Gert and Winnie, clearly the strongest characters in the novel and women in the family, offering differing perspectives on their lives, the theater and the world between 1918 and 1920.

Author Juliette Fay also does such an excellent job of seamlessly including historical aspects of the early 1900s America with her descriptions of vaudeville life that it helps to touch on the social issues of the novel, including  women’s role in society, racism and the economy. The setting is just as big a character as any, making it glaringly obvious just how far we’ve come since then (Women can vote! And go to college!) and yet, how little has changed in terms of racism. Her writing really puts things in perspective.

MVP: Winnie and Gert. Though initially described as sisters who couldn’t be more different — Winnie, the brainy type who wants to be a nurse and vote for the next President  and Gert, the Becky-with-the-Good-Hair of the novel who is beautiful and always has a suitor — they are also the most determined and focused on their goals and their family.

Get The Tumbling Turner Sisters in hardcover for $16.16.

Or on your Kindle for $12.99.

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Review: The Nightingale

515p3orn1kl-_sy344_bo1204203200_Recap: Viann and Isabelle are two sisters at different points in their lives, who are both dealing with the same struggle: surviving in Nazi-occupied France during WWII. Just because they’re not Jewish doesn’t make things any easier. Viann and her daughter are forced to house a Nazi while Viann’s husband fights in the war. While she prays daily for her husband, she also must continue teaching students at school and being the primary support for her Jewish best friend and neighbor. She carries on with her duties while watching her hometown fall apart and witnessing death and destruction.

While Viann tries to get through each day, Isabelle decides she must do something and joins rebel group. She moves back to France to live with her father, with whom she has a tumultuous relationship. After months of passing notes between other rebels, she takes up an even greater cause: saving injured foreign soldiers by leading them through the Pyrenees Mountains into Spain.

The story goes back and forth between WWII and a time 50 years later, when one of the sisters considers returning to France for the first time since the war.

Analysis: As much as I love books, it takes a lot for one to make me cry, and The Nightingale had been sobbing, but not in a depressing way like My Sister’s Keeper, and not in a unnecessarily depressing way like One Day. The ending of The Nightingale was simply so perfect, so beautiful that it brought tears of joy to my eyes in the best way. These sisters suffered through so much and made so many sacrifices. Their lives didn’t go the way they wanted or expected them to, but the way they lived them was worth it in the end. Without giving away too much, it was just beautiful.

The mystery of which sister was telling the story 50 years later kept me turning pages as much as their own individual stories. Even the less interesting sections about Viann cooking dinner were still fascinating because of the greater issues going on around her.

I also loved that this was a Holocaust fiction novel about two non-Jews. It makes it obvious that even for the groups that weren’t targeted, there was still so much pain and anguish, and that’s not something we hear about too often when reflecting on Europe during WWII.

MVP: Isabelle. She received the least amount of love. Her family constantly pushed her away. She never received the support she needed or deserved. And yet, she showed more love, gave more support and exhibited more strength than any of the characters in the novel. She made life possible for so many people, and that cannot be ignored.

Get The Nightingale in hardcover for $16.13. 

Or get it on your Kindle for $9.99.

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