Sunday, August 28, 2016

Review: A Touch of Stardust

A Touch of Stardust
by Kate Alcott

Why did you choose this book? I’ve read and enjoyed previous books by the author
When did you read this book? Aug 2016
Who should read this book? Readers who enjoyed Hollywood fiction
Source: library ebook
Here is a synopsis of A Touch of Stardust from Goodreads

When Julie Crawford leaves Fort Wayne, Indiana for Hollywood, she never imagines she'll cross paths with Carole Lombard, the dazzling actress from Julie's provincial Midwestern hometown. Although the young woman has dreams of becoming a screenwriter, the only job Julie's able to find is one in the studio publicity office of the notoriously demanding producer David O. Selznick —who is busy burning through directors, writers and money as he begins filming Gone with the Wind.     

Although tensions run high on the set, Julie finds she can step onto the back lot, take in the smell of smoky gunpowder and the soft rustle of hoop skirts, and feel the magical world of Gone with the Wind come to life. Julie's access to real-life magic comes when Carole Lombard hires her as an assistant and invites her into the glamorous world Carole shares with Clark Gable—who is about to move into movie history as the dashing Rhett Butler.

Carole Lombard, happily profane and uninhibited, makes no secret of her relationship with Gable, which poses something of a problem for the studio as Gable is technically still married—and the last thing the film needs is more negative publicity. Julie is there to fend off the overly curious reporters, hoping to prevent details about the affair from slipping out. But she can barely keep up with her blonde employer, let alone control what comes out of Carole's mouth, and--as their friendship grows - soon finds she doesn't want to. Carole, both wise and funny, becomes Julie's model for breaking free of the past.

In the ever-widening scope of this story, Julie is given a front-row seat to not one but two of the greatest love affairs of all time: the undeniable on-screen chemistry between Scarlett and Rhett, and off screen, the deepening love between Carole and Clark. Yet beneath the shiny façade, things in Hollywood are never quite what they seem, and Julie must learn to balance career aspirations and her own budding romance with outsized personalities and the overheated drama on set.

My Review

I’ve had this one on my list since before it was released last year, because everything I’ve read by Kate Alcott I’ve enjoyed, The Dressmaker and The Daring Ladies of Lowell! This was no exception! This book was a pleasure to read and moved very quickly. The setting is Hollywood during the filming of Gone With The Wind and if you’ve seen and loved the movie as I have, you can’t help but enjoy this book. You will definitely recognize some of the scenes filmed, and probably learn a bit about the filming, too. For example, I had no idea that the ‘burning of Atlanta’ scene was shot before the role of Scarlett was even cast! It makes perfect sense though, when you learn the burning took place to eliminate sets used in previous films to make way for the building of Tara!

I didn’t know much about Clark Gable’s marriage to Carole Lombard, except that he was married to her, and knew even less about Carole. I really enjoyed getting to know her through this novel. I will probably now go out and look for a few of her films to view!

The story itself centers around Julie, a young college graduate who comes to Hollywood hoping to become a screenwriter. She is befriended by Carole, and develops a relationship with Andy, a key assistant to David Selznick, the producer of Gone With The Wind. One thing that is really interesting is the restraints set on young women at this time. The Hollywood bigwigs tried to control the relationships of their ‘properties’ (the actors and actresses). Julie had to worry about her parents demanding she return to Fort Wayne, her home town, and their reaction to her relationship with Andy, a Jew. Her parents were not alone in the antisemitism. It was a good story, but I felt there were some loose ends I would have liked to have seen tied up with a bow in the form of an epilogue!

One interesting little tidbit I learned from the author’s notes, one of the characters who Julie runs into at an event is Herman Mankiewicz, the father of Kate Alcott’s husband, Frank Mankiewicz. She mentions that she drew upon her husband’s memories to help ‘enter’ that period of time. She did a great job helping me feel the glamour of the era. If you enjoy the golden age of Hollywood and Gone With The Wind, you will definitely want to pick this one up! And if you enjoyed Gone With The Wind and the Golden Age of Hollywood, you should also take a look at Adriana Trigiani’s book set in the era, All The Stars In The Heavens.

My Rating:  ★★★★    4 Stars

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Friday, August 19, 2016

Review: Karolina's Twins

Karolina’s Twins
Liam and Catherine #3
by Ronald H. Balson

Why did you choose this book? I’ve been on a WWII streak this summer
When did you read this book? July 2016
Who should read this book? readers of WWII era fiction
Source: publisher
Here is a synopsis of Karolina’s Twins from Goodreads

From the author of Once We Were Brothers comes a saga inspired by true events of a Holocaust survivor’s quest to fulfill a promise, return to Poland and find two sisters lost during World War II.

Lena Woodward, an elderly woman, enlists the help of both lawyer Catherine Lockhart and private investigator Liam Taggart to appraise the story of her harrowing past in Nazi occupied Poland. At the same time, Lena’s son Arthur presents her with a hefty lawsuit under the pretense of garnering her estate—and independence—for his own purposes. Where these stories intersect is through Lena’s dubious account of her life in war-torn Poland, and her sisterhood with a childhood friend named Karolina. Lena and Karolina struggled to live through the atrocity of the Holocaust, and at the same time harbored a courageous, yet mysterious secret of maternity that has troubled Lena throughout her adult life. In telling her story to Catherine and Liam, Lena not only exposes the realities of overcoming the horrors of the Holocaust, she also comes to terms with her own connection to her dark past.

Karolina’s Twins is a tale of survival, love, and resilience in more ways than one. As Lena recounts her story, Catherine herself also recognizes the unwavering importance of family as she prepares herself for the arrival of her unborn child. Through this association and many more, both Lena and Catherine begin to cherish the dogged ties that bind not only families and children, but the entirety of mankind.

My Review

I have been reading a lot of fiction set during WWII in the past year, and Karolina’s Twins has been compared favorably to many of the books I’ve enjoyed, so when the publisher offered advance copies, it was a no-brainer for me to request it. To be honest, though I wanted to read it and expected to like it, I also expected that because I’ve loved so many of the WWII novels I’ve read, this one would be good, but nothing special. I was wrong — this one is among the best I’ve read! It is not only a WWII story, but also has an element of mystery and romance!

Lena Woodward is a Polish Jew, and survivor of the holocaust, now living in Chicago. Karolina was her best friend from pre-war Poland, and Lena is convinced she needs to fulfill a promise she made to Karolina over 70 years ago — to find the twins that were lost to her during the war. To this end she engages a private investigator -attorney team; Liam Taggert and Catherine Lockhart, who also happen to be a husband-wife team. There is a complication however; Lena is now a wealthy widow with a son, Arthur,  who is seeking guardianship over Lena’s financial matters, claiming she is senile and delusional, and in need of protection from those who would exploit her (Catherine and Liam).

As Catherine and Liam gather information in an effort to learn the fate of the twins and defend Lena from her son’s lawsuit, Lena must revisit her wartime experiences and reveal secrets she’s suppressed for 70 years. This is not always easy to read — we are dealing with the Nazis! — but knowing that Lena survived to tell her story made it a little easier to read through the hard parts. This is going to make a GREAT book club selection with discussions not only about WWII and the Nazi cruelties, but also about choices made by Lena and those around her. This story is going to stick with me for a long time!

And in case you have concerns about this being the third book of a series, I want you to know that I have read neither of the previous books and this one works very well as a stand alone, so enjoy!

My Rating:  ★★★★★    5 Stars

I received an Advanced Reader’s Edition of this book from St. Martin’s Press through  Reading Group Gold.
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Friday, July 29, 2016

Review: The Girl From The Paradise Ballroom

The Girl From Paradise Ballroom
by Alison Love

Why did you choose this book? a WWII story with an Italian connection
When did you read this book? June 2015
Who should read this book? readers of WWII fiction
Source: Library Thing Early Reviewers
Here is a synopsis of The Girl From Paradise Ballroom from Goodreads

The first meeting between Antonio and Olivia at the Paradise Ballroom is brief, but electric.

Years later, on the dawn of World War II, when struggling Italian singer Antonio meets the wife of his wealthy new patron, he recognizes her instantly: it is Olivia, the captivating dance hostess he once encountered in the seedy Paradise Ballroom. Olivia fears Antonio will betray the secrets of her past, but little by little they are drawn together, outsiders in a glittering world to which they do not belong. At last, with conflict looming across Europe, the attraction between them becomes impossible to resist--but when Italy declares war on England, the impact threatens to separate them forever.

The Girl from the Paradise Ballroom is a story of forbidden love and family loyalties amid the most devastating war in human history.

My Review

I received a copy of this book through the Library Thing Early Reviewers earlier this year, but for many reasons, put off reading it. I’m really sorry I did! Why did I put it off so long? I’m not sure, but I think it was because I read the synopsis; I was interested in the Italian connection, but the ‘brief, but electric’ meeting did nothing to make me want to read this book! Even after picking it up, the book did not draw me in immediately. It’s not that I dislike ‘romance’ but I don’t want that to be the main theme in the book. Luckily for me, in this book it was not! This is a war-time story and a story of family, and the romance just happens to be one minor part of that story.

What I really enjoyed about this story was the story of the Italian immigrant experience during WWII. While Antonio was born in Italy, his family immigrated to London while he was still a young child and he was very much assimilated. All the same, when war broke out, he was looked at with suspicion. This resonated with me because I’d heard similar stories about my Italian immigrant ancestors in the US, who were monitored as ‘enemy aliens’ during the war even though they’d entered the US over 30 years ago as young children! This alone made the book interesting to me. Beyond that, the stories of the London bombings, the rationing and deprivation of basic foods and clothing that civilians experiences really came to life for me in this book.

Though I wasn’t a fan of the romance between Antonio and Olivia, I did enjoy some of the other relationships characters formed. At times Bernard, Olivia’s husband, came off as a bit pompous, but overall I came to like him very much. In the end, he was a good-hearted person and I enjoyed his interactions with both Antonio and his sister Filomena.

The book is a little slow-paced, so if you are looking for action, this is not the book you are looking for. You will also be disappointed in the ‘romance’ if you have read the synopsis and are expecting something of epic proportions. However, if you are looking for a good family story set during WWII, this may be just your thing. I just wish it had a more appropriate synopsis!

My Rating:  ★★★★½    4½ Stars

I received a review copy of this book through the Library Thing Early Reviewers program.
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Saturday, July 23, 2016

Review: The Nightingale

Wow! It’s been quite some time since I’ve blogged. I needed a break and decided to take the summer ‘off’. I have been doing a lot of reading though and have lots of thoughts to share with you. I probably won’t be back to blogging regularly for another month or so, but I do hope to start posting some of my reviews periodically. Here is a review for the book I read for my July book club discussion.

The Nightingale
by Kristin Hannah

Why did you choose this book? I enjoy Kristin Hannah and this was a book club pick
When did you read this book? July 2016
Who should read this book? readers of WWII era fiction
Source: library ebook
Here is a synopsis of The Nightingale from Goodreads

In love we find out who we want to be.
In war we find out who we are.

FRANCE, 1939

In the quiet village of Carriveau, Vianne Mauriac says goodbye to her husband, Antoine, as he heads for the Front. She doesn’t believe that the Nazis will invade France...but invade they do, in droves of marching soldiers, in caravans of trucks and tanks, in planes that fill the skies and drop bombs upon the innocent. When France is overrun, Vianne is forced to take an enemy into her house, and suddenly her every move is watched; her life and her child’s life is at constant risk. Without food or money or hope, as danger escalates around her, she must make one terrible choice after another.

Vianne’s sister, Isabelle, is a rebellious eighteen-year-old girl, searching for purpose with all the reckless passion of youth. While thousands of Parisians march into the unknown terrors of war, she meets the compelling and mysterious Gäetan, a partisan who believes the French can fight the Nazis from within France, and she falls in love as only the young can...completely. When he betrays her, Isabelle races headlong into danger and joins the Resistance, never looking back or giving a thought to the real--and deadly--consequences.

With courage, grace and powerful insight, bestselling author Kristin Hannah takes her talented pen to the epic panorama of WWII and illuminates an intimate part of history seldom seen: the women’s war. The Nightingale tells the stories of two sisters, separated by years and experience, by ideals, passion and circumstance, each embarking on her own dangerous path toward survival, love, and freedom in German-occupied, war-torn France--a heartbreakingly beautiful novel that celebrates the resilience of the human spirit and the durability of women. It is a novel for everyone, a novel for a lifetime.

My Review

I enjoy Kristin Hannah and read most of her books soon after they are released. As regular readers of my blog know, I also enjoy WWII era historical fiction. So when my book club made this our July selection I was very happy.

I have read a lot of WWII era fiction this year and in previous years, but I don’t think I’ve yet read one set in France. I learned a lot from reading this. I had not realized before how long France was occupied, and that the invasion took place early in the war. I also hadn’t realized just how bad conditions were for the French, with rationing and a shortage of food. Though I’d heard of the ‘French Resistance’ and perhaps saw a ‘glorified’ version on old 60s TV shows, I really didn’t know much about how it worked. Though this was a fictional account, it did give me an idea of the risks involved and the courage required to become part of this.

In addition to the history, this is a really good story. As the story opens, we meet an old woman, terminally ill and about to move into a retirement center, who insists upon taking an old trunk full of memories with her. She receives an invitation to a reunion in France and decides to go. She begins to reminisce and we go back to France and the story of sisters, often in conflict. One is young and single, and perhaps a bit naive. The other is older and married with a child, and much more cautious in her actions and the risks she undertakes. While most of the story is told from the point of view of these sisters during WWII, the old woman does break in with her memories at times, which serves to give us some perspective, and for me, to relieve some of the tension of being in the midst of a Nazi occupation.

This is probably not the very best WWII story I’ve read this year, but it is very good! If you enjoy Kristin Hannah’s work or WWII era fiction you will definitely want to pick this one up!

My Rating:  ★★★★    4 Stars
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