05 April 2021

Late Winter Reading: Part II

Here's the promised second part of what I read in February and March. (For Part I, see my earlier post.) As before, I present the books in the order I read or listened to them and have taken the text from thoughts I posted on GoodReads. "AFM" means I reviewed the audiobook for AudioFile Magazine, and you'll find my review of the audiobook production there.

I have no idea why I was suddenly attracted to books about women during World War II; I read three nonfiction and two fictionalized accounts.

All but one of the books were provided by the publisher in one or more forms (digital, auido, print). Thanks too to Libro.fm.

Review of Dark Horses by Susan MihalicDark Horses by Susan Mihalic (Gallery, Peb. 2021): Kind of a domestic thriller and coming-of-age mashup. Roan is an Olympic-class equestrian athlete who is coached by her father, who is also a world-famous equestrian. Her fans and friends think her life is blessed, but what they don't know is that her father is controlling and physically and sexually abusive. This is the story of how Roan negotiates the mine field of her life, trying to find a clear path to the other side.

The book is a little difficult to read because of the tough subject matter, but the information about equestrian riding and training is interesting and provides welcome breaks, and the complexities of Roan's feelings are well done. (AFM)

Review of The Initial Insult by Mindy McGinnisThe Initial Insult by Mindy McGinnis (Katherine Tegen, Feb. 2021): I'm a fan of McGinnis's, and this creepy, twisty book didn't disappoint. In this retelling of Poe's "The Cask of Amontillado," teenage Tress seeks revenge and information from her ex-best friend, Felicity, who was the last person to see Tress's parents before they disappeared. McGinnis also provides a look at what might happen when contemporary teenagers party unsupervised, except by social media. I can't wait for the second book in the duology.

The audiobook is nicely read by Lisa Flanagan, Brittany Pressley, and Tim Campbell. Flanagan and Pressley read the sections told from Tress's and Felicity's viewpoints, each perfectly capturing her character's personality. Campbell reads the sections told from the point of view of a panther (I won't say more, so as to avoid spoilers), and does a great job with the free verse.

Review of The Invisible Woman by Erika RobuckThe Invisible Woman by Erika Robuck (Berkley, Feb. 2021): Robuck's latest historical fiction introduces us to Virginia Hall, who overcame a number of hurdles to become a key player in the French resistance during World War II. Despite being a woman, being American, and needing a wooden leg (the result of an accident), she was sent to Occupied France by the British government to gather information, transmit messages, arrange supply drops, and aid the resistance.

I had never heard of Virginia Hall, who earlier served in the diplomatic core and later in the CIA. Even if you think you're over WWII stories, this one is very much worth your while. (AFM)

Review of The Power Couple by Alex BerensonThe Power Couple by Alex Berenson (Simon & Schuster, Feb. 2021): A very twisty thriller with some political and domestic aspects. Rebecca, a CIA operative, is married to Brian, a tech expert who recently sold a gambling app for buckets of money. To celebrate a milestone wedding anniversary and their new wealth, they decide to take a family trip to Europe. While in Barcelona, their college-aged daughter, Kira, sneaks out to have a drink with a guy she met the day before. She never comes home. A day or so later, her parents receive a ransom note.

The story, told alternately from Rebecca's, Brian's, and Kira's perspectives, is believable and scary. I loved the surprises. If you're into thrillers, give this a try. The audiobook is brilliantly performed by Steven Weber and Marin Ireland, who nailed the pacing and the characters' personalities.

Review of Every Vow You Break by Peter SwansonEvery Vow You Break by Peter Swanson (William Morrow, March 2021): I like a good domestic thriller, but the premise of this one was hard for me to buy. On her destination bachelorette party (paid for and arranged by her fabulously wealthy groom), Abigail gets drunk and has a one-night stand. She decides she shouldn't tell her groom. Everything is back on track until Abigail begins to feel uneasy just hours into their honeymoon on an isolated, tech-free island off the coast of Maine.

Yes, there were tense moments, and yes, I ended up rooting for Abigail. However, I found much of the book a little out of my ability to suspend disbelief. Also, it wasn't hard to predict the ending. The unabridged audiobook was read by Karissa Vacker, who did a good job with the material she had to work with.

Review of The Forever Sea by Joshua Phillip JohnsonThe Forever Sea by Joshua Phillip Johnson (DAW, Jan. 2021): I wanted to love this eco-fantasy, but instead it was just okay for me. In this world, boats sail on the surface of a vast, deep "ocean" made of prairie grasses. Boats are powered by magical fires tended by hearthkeepers. The story focuses on a young hearthkeeper and her first crew, both on the sea and in port. Themes include loyalty and betrayal, friends and family, loss and love (LGBTQ+), and politics.

This first in a new series ends not so much on a cliffhanger but certainly without resolution. The world building is well done, but the characters lack depth and the plot is meandering. (AFM)

Review of You'll Thank Me for This: A Novel by Nina SiegalYou'll Thank Me for This by Nina Siegal (Mulholland Books, March 2021): Set in a national park in Netherlands, this thriller finds its foundation in a local tradition in which a small group of teens are blindfolded and then dropped off in the woods with a map and compass. Though adult guardians are nearby, the kids are meant to work together to find their way to a camp, a few miles away. Quickly after young Karin and her group are left on their own, everything starts to go wrong, and as night falls, she is alone and lost.

Though the general plot was predictable, there were some surprises and the suspense and creep factors were well done. I really liked Karin's ability to draw on her knowledge and experience, even when she was really scared. Maybe not the best thriller, but I liked it. The unabridged audiobook was read by Tavia Gilbert, who did an excellent job with the characterizations, pronunciations, emotions, and tension.

Review of Three Ordinary Girls by Tim BradyThree Ordinary Girls by Tim Brady (Citadel, Feb. 2021): This is mostly a "just the facts, ma'am" kind of book. It introduces us to three teenagers who got caught up in the resistance movement in the Netherlands during World War II. The author learned about sisters Truss and Freddie Oversteegen and their colleague Jo Schaft from his agent, who saw one of the Oversteegens' obituaries. This journalistic account covers the girls' success and failures as they learned to steal, lie, kill, plant home-made bombs, deliver underground newspapers, hide Jews, and help Jewish children find safe homes. The girls were all under the age of 20 when they started.

Their story and their heroism teaches us all that even ordinary people with few skills can become heroes and make a true difference to help others. It's a lesson that is particularly important today. (AFM)

Review of The Light of the Midnight Stars by Rena RossnerThe Light of the Midnight Stars by Rena Rossner (Redhook, April 2021): Part magical realism, part historical fiction, part midrash, part kabbalah, part folk tale retelling, this is a powerful book that's deep in Jewish tradition. Told from the perspectives of three sisters, this is the story of ethnic violent prejudice, love, faith, family, and--sadly--reality, even with the more mystical elements. There is an LBGTQ+ element and a strong theme of not being able to escape one's fate, of being tied to one's ancestral history and faith no matter how hard you try to outrun it.

This book is much, much stronger than Rossner's first, and I can't wait to read whatever else she has to write. The audiobook was read by Ana Clements, who did an excellent job conveying the different personalities of the sisters and infusing her delivery with power and emotion.

Review of A Woman of No Importance by Sonia PurnellA Woman of No Importance by Sonia Purnell (Viking, 2019) After reading Erica Robuck's fictionalized account of Virginia Hall (see above), I had to read this biography of the woman who overcame many barriers to help the French resistance and feed information to the British government. This book goes into more detail about Hall's life before and after the events told in the novel.

Hers is an amazing story. Don't miss learning about Virginia Hall, whether you choose to read this biography or Robuck's novel. (library book)

Review of Northern Spy by Flynn BerryNorthern Spy by Flynn Berry (Viking, April 2021): Emotional, strong look at how two sisters became involved in the contemporary IRA movement. Count me as one of the people who thought the Troubles were over in Ireland. In fact the IRA is still active and both sides--the activists and British government--attempt to recruit followers/informants in subtle, incremental ways. This book explores several sides of the ongoing conflict and the way it affects a single family. A powerful story, highly recommended, despite some problems with the plot details.

The audiobook was wonderfully narrated by Katharine Lee McEwan, who infused her delivery with the complex feelings of the characters without crossing the line into the melodramatic. Gripping performance that will make you want to listen all in one go.


(Diane) Bibliophile By the Sea 4/5/21, 7:34 AM  

Dark Horses was a DNF for me and although, I love Peter Swanson's writing and have read about all he's written, Every Vow You Break was so disappointing. Hope he bounces back.

(Diane) bookchickdi 4/5/21, 7:55 AM  

I gave my daughter-in-law The Power Couple for Easter (she is from outside Barcelona) so I’m glad to hear it’s good. I gave my mom A Woman of No Importance, I think I will have to borrow her copy to read now, and pick up Erica Robuck’s
book, Virginia Hall sounds like a fascinating woman.

Tina TBR Etc 4/5/21, 8:22 AM  

I think I'll still check out Every Vow You Break... sometimes I get in the mood for a popcorn thriller!

Laurel-Rain Snow 4/5/21, 8:59 AM  

I see several tempting books. I LOVED Every Vow You Break.

Enjoy your week and your books, and thanks for visiting my blog.

Kathy Martin 4/5/21, 10:01 AM  

Interesting variety of books. I'm adding a couple to my wishlist. Come see my week here. Happy reading!

Deb Nance at Readerbuzz 4/5/21, 10:18 AM  

It seems as if there have been more books recently with the theme of women in WWII. I'm glad you have been enjoying these.

Yvonne 4/5/21, 3:00 PM  

So many great looking books. Every Vow You Break and the Power Couple caught my eye. I want to read those.

Sue Jackson 4/5/21, 5:02 PM  

Wow, you've been busy! Both The Invisible Woman and The Power Couple sound especially good to me. Disappointed to hear Peter Swanson's isn't up to his usual standards - I normally enjoy his books.

Hope you are enjoying some great books in April, too!


Book By Book

Greg 4/5/21, 10:50 PM  

Several of these look good to me. Bummer about Forever sea, I was curious about that one.

Jen at Introverted Reader 4/7/21, 5:17 PM  

I think I've read about Virginia Hall on the A Mighty Girl Facebook page. I'll have to look for one of the books you mention.

Several of these catch my attention so I'll have to see what the library has.

Thanks for the reviews!

Martha Eskuchen 4/10/21, 12:49 AM  

More interesting titles. You'll Than Me for This gets my most interest.
Thanks for sharing your quick thoughts!

Jackie McGuinness 4/10/21, 10:19 AM  

Goodness what a great selection, I added most of the to my library wish list.

DeborahStarling101 4/17/21, 10:33 AM  

I am so happy I came across your blog because I recently finished a book that I can also very much describe as a "kind of a domestic thriller and coming-of-age mashup" and I LOVED IT... I have been looking for a book with a similar theme/genre. Dark Horses is definitely next on my TBR list. I think you'd really enjoy "Girl with the Rose Tattoo" by Larry Weiss. It's a new thriller that doesn't fit the typical thriller mold. The young female lead, Tina, is a character that has a lot of heart and anyone who has been in a bad relationship (although maybe not as extreme as hers) can feel empathy for and relate. The book follows Tina on her journey of self-discovery and getting away from her lowlife boyfriend Rob. Many times you have to hit rock bottom before climbing back up and Tina finds herself homeless, pregnant and alone before meeting her "guardian angel"  Jenny. Jenny helps Tina find herself and stand up against her terrible ex. I know it sounds like a feel good novel but there are a ton of twists and turns, some violence, and lot of nail-biting moments as well. If you wanna take a peek you can look at the author's website- https://street-fiction-writer.com/Happy Spring and Happy Reading!

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