The Lost Girls of Paris

The Lost Girls of Paris by Pam Jenoff is an adult historical fiction novel by the same author of The Orphan’s Tale.

It’s 1946 in New York City, the war is over and Grace Healey is attempting to rebuild her life after losing her husband. One morning, running late to work, Grace is passing through Grand Central Station when she trips over an unattended suitcase. Unable to ignore her curiosity, she looks through the bag and finds photographs of twelve women. In the moment, Grace grabs the photos and goes on her way.

Later, Grace learns that the suitcase belongs to the recently deceased, Eleanor Trigg, the leader of a group of female secret agents, sent to infiltrate occupied Paris before the start of the war. She become obsessed with finding the truth of Eleanor and the girl’s stories.

And so begins the story of Grace as she hunts for the truth, Eleanor as she creates and runs the resistance, and Marie, one of the female operators who never came home.

This was a good story but, I must be reading too much historical fiction lately, because my feelings toward it are only so-so.

One of the main problems I had with the book was that the story-lines, specifically Marie’s, had no build up. I felt like there was a beginning and an ending but no middle. I understand that emotions run high during wartime but there really needed to be at least some relationship building. It was like a chunk of Marie’s story and even to some extent Eleanor’s story was left out.

I did like reading about the female agents, how they were recruited and trained and also how the men came to really rely on them. Women’s role in early conflicts are always interesting to learn about.

This one probably deserves more than three stars but for now, I am historical fiction-ed out.

That’s all for now!

-M-

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Damsel

Damsel by Elana K. Arnold is a young adult “fairy tale” with a dark edge.

Upon the death of the King, his son must face a dragon alone and bring back a damsel. On then can he become the next King of the realm. This is the way things have been done as far back as anyone can remember… Until now.

When Ama wakes in the arms of Prince Emory, she is unaware of the tradition. In fact, she is unaware of anything–who she was, where she came from. She has no recollection of her life prior to waking, naked, in the princes arms. Ama only knows what the prince has told her and when they return to his kingdom, she is celebrated as the damsel rescued from the terrible dragon.

As night falls in the kingdom, Ama has a feeling that not all is right. There is more to this story then she has been told. What is it that Ama doesn’t know and what cost will she pay to reveal it?

All I can really say about this one, was that it was not the book for me. I think it was meant to be this dark little tale about the subjection of women, with very overt metaphors about sexual dominance and abuse, but it just didn’t work for me.

I’ve never read anything by this author before, so maybe I am just not used to her writing style but I found the story awkward and at times forced. I was so surprised by this because I love a good twisty feminist tale and I thought this was going to be a good one, but, like I said, it was not the book for me.

When I started the book and was reading Emory’s narrative in the beginning, I just sat there wondering what on earth I was reading. Then Ama steps in as the protagonist and things did improve but not enough for me to really get into the story.

I feel like this is a love/hate sort of story. You are either going to love it or hate it and unfortunately, I lean toward the latter. This one gets a womp, womp 2 stars from me.

That’s all for now!

-M-

The Huntress

The Huntress by Kate Quinn is a historical fiction novel that jumps between three narratives that span pre/post WWII.

Brusque and bold Nina Markova grew up in the middle of nowhere in the Soviet Union. As soon as she can, she escapes her hometown and flees to Moscow, where she learns to fly. When war approaches, she joins the infamous Night Witches, an all-female night bomber regiment, where she thrives. When her plane goes down behind enemy lines, Nina must fight to survive, a fight that gets even harder when she comes across a Nazi murderess known as The Huntress.

British war correspondent Ian Graham, has seen it all and now that that war is over, he has given up writing to track and capture Nazi war criminals. But one target has eluded him, The Huntress, and for him, this hunt is personal.

Seventeen-year-old Jordan McBride grows up in post WWII Boston, and is expected to marry her high school sweetheart and keep house but all she wants to do is to become a photographer. When her dad brings home a fiancé, a German widow with secrets, Jordan is suspicious. Armed only with her camera and her head, Jordan investigates her step-mother-to-be at the risk of her father’s happiness.

In a story that spans over ten years and multiple continents, The Huntress is a story full of twists and turns.

When I first started this one, I had just finished a few other historical fiction novels and was sort of over the past/present narrative. But after a few eyerolls because of that, I got over it and really got into the story.

Overall, the story was fine. It was entertaining and I liked how everything intertwined. But I LOVED the Night Witches and Nina’s story. This was a part of history, I wasn’t aware of and getting a glimpse at this all female bomber group was fantastic. I could have read a whole book just on Nina.

I also liked Jordan’s story and the way she grows throughout, but mostly the way she thinks. I was not as impressed with Ian’s narrative. It just didn’t catch my interested as much and I found myself just wanting to get through it to get back to the women.

The Huntress is probably not my favorite historical fiction, but it did keep my interest. This one gets 3.5 stars from me.

That’s all for now!

-M-

Holy Sister

Holy Sister by Mark Lawrence is the third and final Book of the Ancestor.

Sometimes, it is the long game that matters most.

Nona Grey was saved from execution as a young girl and brought to the Convent of the Sisters of Sweet Mercy. But Nona did not learn to lead a life of pray, instead she learned to reach the path and the way of the blade an the fist. She was raised to be a warrior, for warriors are what is needed as the corridor closes and the end nears.

Now Nona must become the convents fiercest warrior. She must harness every skill she has learned in order to protect the home she has come to love as well as the friends she has made. But destiny and prophecy can be funny things.

Will Nona have the strength to do what must be done? Will the Sisters of Sweet Mercy be able to weather the coming storm? Everything has lead up to this moment and win or lose…. there will be blood.

Seriously, I just LOVE this series. I am so bummed it is over. Lawrence just has such a knack for detail when it comes to those epic battle and fight scenes, I don’t know how he can both picture it and get it down on paper so well! You thought Nona kicked but in the previous books, well you ain’t seen nothing yet.

There is just a wonderful mesh of story and action that go so well with each other. And pretty much all the paths lead to the final moment. You get this surprising conclusion where all the pieces come together without being told every little detail. And yet, there are still things to wonder about.

One day, I am going to listen to all three of these audio books back to back to back because I think you’d really get all those little connections better that way. Regardless, thank you Lawrence for your mini recap in the beginning. Totally appreciated that!

This was just a series that was right up my ally. I don’t know if it is for everyone but I really enjoyed it. 5 stars from me.

That’s all for now!

-M-

Warlight

Warlight by Michael Ondaatje is an adult historical fiction novel.

It is 1945 and London and the rest of Europe are still reeling from the war. In it’s aftermath, two children and all but abandoned by their parents and left in the care of a strange man, whom the suspect to be a criminal. 14-year-old Nathaniel and his older sister, Rachel, thought their parents were going overseas for work, but when they find their mother’s steamer trunk hidden away, they come to understand that much of what they know is a lie.

As Nathaniel and Rachel come to know their enigmatic caretaker and his crew of shadowy compatriots, they become less concerned with their circumstances and embrace the intrigue and the cards they have been dealt.

Thirteen years later, Nathaniel tries to reconcile that mysterious time in his life. He longs to know the truth about his secretive mother and why she abandoned them all those years ago. He wants to know what happened to the crew of misfits who molded him into the man he is today. But more than anything he wants to shine a light on the shadows that still haunt his memory.

Hmmm this one is a hard to review. Mostly because I lost interest about halfway through. I really enjoyed the first half of the book, when Nathaniel was a boy and getting into trouble. I loved his time with the Data and Agnes and his interactions with the other adults constantly coming in and out of his life. But once we jump to his adult life, it wasn’t as interesting to me. It should have been because, like Nathaniel, I wanted to know what was really happened and yet it wasn’t. And because of this, I sort of stopped paying close attention to the story, which could be why the second half got a little confusing for me.

I realize that, as an adult, Nathaniel was searching for facts about his mother’s life. But from what I read, it sounded like he wasn’t getting very far and yet there are these long excerpts from her life. Is Nathaniel making these up to create his own narrative based on what he finds? Did these snip-its of the past really happen and they are only for the readers benefit? I’m leaning toward the former based on his internalizations toward the end, but who knows. And that bugs me.

Yes, there may be more to this story. Could it be a commentary on the secretive nature of this second world war? Maybe. Is it a coming of age story? Somewhat. What is the actual point of the story? I’m not sure. And that is why this story only gets a grudging three stars from me. While parts of it were good, I just didn’t get it. It’s a shame because I loved the narrator of the audio book too.

That’s all for now!

-M-

Exit West

Exit West by Mohsin Hamid is an adult fiction book that follows two characters as they are forced to migrate from their homeland.

In a country on the cusp of civil war a man and a woman meet. Independent Nadia and reserved Saeed form a bond amidst the coming chaos that is both intimate and escalates quickly. Soon the two must band together to survive the unrest roiling through their city.

As conditions in their home worsen, Saeed and Nadia hear whispers of doors, doorways that can take you far away… for a price. With no good choices available to then, Nadia and Saeed take one of these doors, leaving their old lives, their old selves, behind. What the future holds, no one knows.

One of the things I loved about this book was the narrative. We have this almost, observational narrator, who is telling the story as if watching it unfold. I think this is great because you get this feeling of being on the outside looking in and not being a migrant myself, this is what I feel like I should be feeling. Definitely helps to reinforce the narrative.

The story itself is more metaphorical than magical. You have these dark doorways that transport you somewhere else, be it good or bad, but these doors aren’t magical, they are metaphors for the migrant experience. Nadia describes being changed as one pushes through the door, being both exhausted and elated, regretful and relieved. Nadia and Saeed enter these doorways looking for a better life but never sure of if what they find will be better or worse than where they are coming from.

I thought the transition Saeed and Nadia went through in this story both heartbreaking but also a bit beautiful. They were able to stay together through the hardships and yet they were able to realize how they have changed and what it meant for them as a couple. There was no bitterness, no hatred or betrayal.

This one gets 4 stars from me.

That’s all for now!

-M-

The Lost Letter

The Lost Letter by Jillian Cantor is an adult historical fiction novel, with an alternating narrative, set in the late 1980’s and the start of WWII.

In Los Angeles 1989, Katie Nelson is going through a rough patch. She is in the midst of a divorce she didn’t see coming and helping her father, who was recently put in a home because of his increasingly losing battle with Alzheimer. Not knowing what else to do with her father’s massive stamp collection, she takes it to a deal who finds an unopened love letter, with an interesting stamp.

Decades earlier in Austria, 1938, Kristoff is a young apprentice to Frederic, a master stamp engraver, who quickly comes to love the engraver and his Jewish family. When Frederic disappears on Kristallnacht, Kristoff is forced to engrave stamps for the German. But secretly, alongside Elena, Frederic’s daughter, and the Austrian resistance, Kristoff will enter a dangerous world, he may not be ready for.

Together these two stories will intertwine to reveal the past and enlighten the future.

This was a recommendation from a friend when I was in an audio book lull. And it was a pretty good one to pass the time with. I wasn’t overly wow’ed, but I was never bored and it definitely passed the time.

I actually like Katie’s journey more than Kristoff’s. I really enjoyed her hunt for the past and having it set in a time where those databases and resources were only just being created, made the hunt more interesting for me.

Don’t you just love reading books about hobbies. I swear, every time I read something about someone who collects something or trains for a marathon, or whatever, I totally envision myself going out there and doing the same thing. And after this one, a small part of me was like, “go ahead, become a philatelist.” Then you finish the book and are like no, no. It’s fun to get inside the character’s heads.

This one gets a solid 3.5 stars from me.

That’s all for now!

-M-