The Room on Rue Amelie by Kristin Harmel ~ A Review

the room on rue amelieRuby Henderson was eager for adventure when Marcel Benoit walked into the Central Park cafe. “I’m in search of a big life, and I won’t find it in the middle of nowhere,” she had declared to her parents when she left their small Southern California town to study in Manhattan. Ruby wanted a big life full of glamour and excitement. And Marcel was just the person to give it to her.

By the following July they were married, living in his Paris apartment. The newlywed couple spent their evenings hobnobbing with the important art and literary names of the time, spent their days gazing at the Eiffel Tower over glasses of wine on the apartment balcony. It was all she had ever wanted.

Unfortunately, it was 1939 and the Nazi troops moving across the continent were about to change everything.  Suddenly an American woman living in occupied Paris, the glitz and glamour and famous acquaintances were replaced with fear for herself, her Jewish neighbors, and the suspicious behavior of her now distant husband.

I have read several good books lately set in the WWII era, but really enjoyed this one told from the point of view of an American female choosing to stay in harm’s way when she could have returned to the safety of the United States. It definitely brought out issues that would not have existed otherwise.

In addition to the unique point of view, Kristin Harmel does  a wonderful job of combining the beauty and romance of Paris with the fear, death, and destruction of war, specifically the horrors inflicted by the Nazis.  

I highly recommend this book, but warn that it is not a light read. It is deep and emotional and will stay with you long after the last page.

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The Girl From The Savoy by Hazel Gaynor

The Girl From The Savoy is a charming story set in early 1920s post WWI London where eager to forget the pain left by war for a little while, many found distraction in the glitz and glamour of the dawning jazz era of the theater, obsessing over each new starlet to grace the stage.

Housemaid Dorothy Lane is no different. Joining the gallery girls in the high seats at every show she can attend, she dreams of seeing her own name on the marquee outside, the spotlight following her as she dances across the stage.  Hoping it will lead her one step closer to her dream of becoming the next great theater star, she moves to London, taking a job as a chambermaid at the famous Savoy Hotel.

A chance encounter on a rain soaked street on the way to her first day at the Savoy sets her on a path she’d dreamed but never really thought possible – friendship with current sweetheart of the stage Loretta May, muse to a composer on the brink of greatness, and time spent in the company of the up and coming Bright Young Things. And an audition. As her dreams become reality, Dorothy has to choose between the future she’d always hoped  for – and the past she thought she’d lost forever.

I have to admit it took me a couple tries to read this book. The first few pages just didn’t grab my attention. Thankfully I finally committed and pushed through,  quickly becoming engaged – and very happy I did.  Author Hazel Gaynor does an excellent job of exposing the hidden wounds of war- the emotional scars left on both the soldiers and the families and loved ones left behind. It’s easy to compare the diagnosis of ‘shell shock’ given to the emotionally damaged soldiers of that era to the Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) our soldiers deal with today,  making this story set in the glitzy and glamorous 1920s jazz age theater of West End London very real and relateable in today’s world.

 

 

As Bright As Heaven by Susan Meissner

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I am drawn to Historical Fiction because I am in awe of the level of suffering and loss past generations have endured and yet pushed through. I love reading and learning about their struggles and determination to overcome. We would not be here today to complain about our petty issues if not for our incredibly strong and brave ancestors.

This newest book from Susan Meissner, with her unmatched talent for weaving history through fictional story, is currently my favorite of this category.

In As Bright As Heaven, the outrageous amount of death and loss caused by the Spanish Flu pandemic during WW1 was brought to life through the Bright family. Moving from their safe and quiet life in Quakertown to take over an aging uncle’s funeral home in exciting Philadelphia, the family sees nothing but promise in their future. As they settle into city life, new schools and friends for the girls, new career and financial freedom for mom and dad – an unseen fog of death, a.k.a. the Spanish Flu, is creeping closer, destin to destroy life as they have ever known it.

I had to wait a while after finishing this book before discussing or reviewing. It took some time to reconcile the overwhelming presence of death through the book.

As difficult as it may have been, Susan has taken this little known part of history and wrapped it in a page turning family saga that will stay with you long after the final page.

Highly recommend.

*An estimated 50 million people died from the Spanish Flu, 1918-19. The nagging voice of conspiracy theorist continues to whisper in the back of my mind – could this have been an early, and horribly successful, attempt of germ warfare? Significantly more people died during this time from the influenza than causality of WW1 (1914-18).

The Isle of the Lost by Melissa De La Cruz ~ review

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What a cute story! I have to admit I love Disney Channel’s movie Descendants.  This is the perfect prequel, full of excitement and ending just moments before the movie begins. This is a great read for tweens or anyone who loves the worlds of Disney Princesses and has ever wondered what happened to them all after ‘happily ever after’.

One Thousand White Women: The Journals of May Dodd by Jim Fergus – review

In September of 1874, Cheyenne Chief Little Wolf traveled to Washington D.C. to meet with the Great White Father, President Ulysses S. Grant. He came with a proposal that would ensure a future for his people, an opportunity to peacefully assimilate into the white culture rapidly taking over their homelands. Little Wolf asked President Grant to gift the Cheyenne tribe one thousand white women, to marry into the tribe and produce children. Completely logical to the Indian way of thinking, the women could begin to teach them the ways of white civilization, and the children born of mixed blood would be the first bridge bringing the two peoples together. He offered a fair trade of horses for the women.

Although publicly claiming disgust at the proposition, Grant agreed to participate. In great secrecy the government scoured prisons and insane asylums for female ‘volunteers’ to join the Brides for Indians program. In exchange for their participation, marriage to a Cheyenne tribesman for the period of two years or birth of one child – whichever came first, they would be rewarded with their freedom.

The story opens to May Dodd, headed west on a train with several other women in March of 1875 – the first installment of women to marry into the Cheyenne tribe. May had eagerly accepted the government’s offer. Having been confined to a lunatic asylum by her parents for the sickness of Promiscuity, she imagined the unknown and possible horror of living with savages could only pale in comparison to the nightmare of the asylum and the ‘treatments’ she had endured.  The story is told through her letters and journal entries.

In this incredible journey May finds the love, friendship, and freedom she had always dreamed of, and a level of betrayal she had never known possible.

This well written story quickly pulled me in, painting beautiful and cruel pictures of the last days of freedom for the American Indian, the strength and commonalities of women across all cultures, and the wonderful generosities of our great government.

A definite keeper, already back in rotation to re-read.

 

Luna Tree: The Baby Project by Maya Berger ~ review

luna treeThis true story chronicles first time author Maya Berger’s deteriorating health, struggle for diagnosis, and quest for healing.

Chronic insomnia followed by wide spread sudden on-set pain left many doctors without a solid diagnosis. Many made guesses and offered ineffective treatments, but her pain continued. A chance encounter offered a possible diagnosis, which was finally confirmed by a physician. Unfortunately, effective treatment was still unavailable. After spending much time and money seeking treatment across Europe, Maya finally receives some relief at a Relaxation Clinic using Energy techniques led by a Chinese healer.

Over the course of several years, Maya continues to learn and grow in the ways of Energy, realizing she needed healing for more than the medical condition.  Because she never gave up, always believed she could once again live a normal, fulfilling life, Maya has now learned what real happiness is, and is eager to share her story to encourage others who may be living less than fulfilling lives, and especially those who are ill and have been told by their doctors that there is nothing more they can do.  Maya urges everyone to keep an open mind, learn to relax, and accept the healing energy that is available to us all.

This story is written with honesty, sharing much about her personal and family relationships, although it is not clear until the ending chapters why much of the information is given.  I also question the addition of “The Baby Project” in the title since the issue of having a baby does not appear until the last chapters. I struggled a bit at first to find a rhythm in the writing, finding some of the phrasing awkward and sometimes repetitive. Once I realized English is not the authors primary language, this made sense and as I became engrossed in the story, less of a concern.

I recommend this book to anyone looking for hope, or feeling like they have run out of options.

**I received a copy of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review.

Winter Bloom by Tara Heavey ~ Review

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This story begins when Eva Madigan, recently single and relocated to Ireland with her young son Liam, stumbles upon a long neglected garden. Although she has never successfully grown anything, Eva is drawn to the overgrown walled lot.  After initially rejecting Eva’s request to try to revive the forgotten acre, the icy owner best known for murdering her husband agrees to allow her to attempt the feat. Eva excitedly posts a flyer asking for help from the community and is soon joined by Emily, an odd young introvert; and Uri, a retired tailor with much needed gardening skills – although he denies having much experience. Uri’s son Seth and the elderly owner of the garden, Mrs. Prendergast, soon cannot resist the pull of the garden and join in the efforts.

Through real magic of the garden or simply the shared experience of nurturing it, their personal walls begin to crumble and slowly relationships bloom.

The surface interactions between these five as they coax the plants and flowers and vegetables into existence would have made a pleasant, entertaining read. But the story went much deeper. One by one we learn the heartbreak that led each of them to this place – needing the healing powers of the growing garden to bring them back to life.

I chose this novel as I do most books I select – for a light and entertaining read. This was so much more. The depth, emotion, quality story, and excellent writing make this easily one of my favorites in a long time.

Winter Bloom will go on my re-read shelf, and I am eager to read more from this author.