Book Review: The Searcher

You know you’re dealing with a big shot when the author’s name is far bigger than the book’s title. This is the first book I have read from this author, but her mastery of tone and tension have added her name to my “read more” list.

The Searcher by Tana French

My first thought after my grandmother handed me this book was, “What’s with the random field on the cover?” After finishing it, however, I can say I have never seen a cover that better captures the tone of the writing.

Cover Description

“Cal Hooper thought a fixer-upper in a remote Irish village would be the perfect escape. After twenty-five years in the Chicago police force, and a bruising divorce, he just wants to build a new life in a pretty spot with a good pub where nothing much happens.

“But then a local kid comes looking for his help. Trey Reddy’s brother has gone missing, and no one, least of all the police, seems to care. Cal wants nothing to do with any kind of investigation, but somehow he can’t make himself walk away.

“Against his will, he discovers that even in the most idyllic small town, secrets lie hidden, people aren’t always what they seem, and trouble can come calling at his door.”

Characters

Cal is the quintessential burnt-out policeman. He has a no-nonsense attitude and a low tolerance for b*llsh*t that pushes him toward a simpler life away from the crime and politics of modern Chicago. Like many divorced men, he doesn’t really understand what went wrong in his marriage, though his experience with Trey sheds some light on it.

Trey is a typical teenager who communicates via a rich variety of shrugs and eye rolls decipherable only to familiar eyes. At once stubborn and vulnerable, Trey simultaneously reminds Cal what it means to be the good guy and forces him to break the rules.

Surrounding these characters are the colorful townsfolk one expects in a small village—the good, the bad, the ugly, and the all three at once.

Plot

The Searcher is slow-burn psychological crime fiction that lures the reader into its depths with tiny morsels of information. The mystery unravels not with wild accusations and dramatic revelations, but with subtle nods and shifty glances. While not action-packed, I still felt compelled to finish it. Though the ending was anti-climactic, I loved the twist in the middle.

Writing Style

French’s style is lyrical, complex, and creepy—like a symphony played in a minor key. The Los Angeles Times said that French, “could make a Target run feel tense and revelatory,” and I agree. Much of the book comprises mundane tasks—fixing a desk, fishing, grocery shopping, watching the flock of rooks in the nearby tree—but the overtone of tension makes it engaging. I’ve never felt so nervous reading about a guy tearing out his wallpaper. The plot didn’t thrill me, and I wasn’t ecstatic about the ending, but I would have finished this book regardless just to continue reading French’s masterfully crafted sentences.

Miscellaneous

As I mentioned above, the cover design at first baffled me, but after finishing the novel, I can say it’s a perfect match.

Conclusion

You know you’re dealing with a big shot when the author’s name is far bigger than the book’s title. This is the first book I have read from this author, but her mastery of tone and tension have added her name to my “read more” list. Set in a colorful Irish town and drenched in tension, The Searcher is perfect for passing time while snowed-in on Halloween (Yes, people who live near the equator, that happens). While I would not recommend it for readers who need action-packed drama, those who appreciate a more subtle approach to crafting mood will love French’s writing style.

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Book Review: The Winter Dragon

What better way to spice up your Christmas season than with dragons and giant mountain goats?

The Winter Dragon: A Fantasy Novella by Jo-Anne Tomlinson

I was lucky enough to receive an early copy of this fantasy novella, though I did pre-order it as well.

Description

In the land of eternal winter, archer Katja and her sister prepare for the festivities of Juletine, when the people of Brunn give thanks to the Winter Dragon. Though no one has seen the dragon for centuries, tradition demands the villagers honor the gifts of healing and protection given to their ancestors. Everyone but the king, who for reasons unknown hasn’t shown his face in several years, leaving his haughty-but-handsome son to conduct the rituals.

The bothersome prince isn’t the only thing troubling Katja. The barrels of healing water grow smaller each year as the frost wall grows thinner. When the traditional hunt goes terribly wrong, endangering her family, Katja must journey beyond the safety of her home in order to save it.

Characters

I can tell the author has siblings, because Katja and her sister behave exactly like you’d expect for two girls who both love and torment each other. Katja’s stubbornness gives her the grit she needs as the protagonist, and the prince comes around by the end. This short tale packs a lot into a few pages—dragons, princes, imps, and giant mountain goats. I’d like to spend an entire novel in this world.

Plot

The plot moves steadily with the perfect balance of action and reaction. The story intertwines personal and societal stakes as Katja must journey up the mountain to save not only her family, but her people.

I wish the novella had been longer, a short novel even. A lot of the emotional turnaround happened too quickly, leaving the deeper conflicts resolved but unprocessed, shallow. A novella is too short to dig deeper into such transformations.

Writing Style

The author’s prose is descriptive enough to set the fantastical scene, but not so heavy as to slow the plot. She writes in long sentences, without too much purple prose. I’m impressed an author from a tropical island can write such a great winter story. I doubt I could write a convincing story that takes place on a beach.

As I mentioned above, Tomlinson prioritizes action over emotion, which is appropriate for this genre, I remind myself. I’ve been reading a lot of high-drama contemporary fiction lately, so while I felt the emotional conflict resolution was shallow, readers exclusive to fantasy may find the level just right.

Conclusion

What better way to spice up your Christmas season than with dragons and giant mountain goats? The short-but-powerful story grips readers with Katja’s personal stakes while raising the pressure with threats to Brunn’s way of life. Well worth reading, and I hope the author writes more. I can never get enough dragons.


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Book Review: A Spark of Light

Was this a good book? Yes. Was it the great bridge over the abortion divide the reviews claimed it was? Not even close.

A Spark of Light by Jodi Picoult

This is the first book I have read by Jodi Picoult. I know, I know, even the rock I live under has heard of her. Having finally read one of her books, I will say she is a masterful writer, and I plan to read more.

Cover Description

A typical day at the Center, a women’s reproductive health services clinic, dissolves into chaos when a gunman bursts in and threatens the patients and staff. Hugh McElroy, a police hostage negotiator, fights for control of the perimeter and tries to communicate with the gunman. His phone vibrates with incoming texts messages, and he discovers his fifteen-year-old daughter, Wren, is among the hostages.

Characters

The story shifts perspective among clinic patients, staff, the shooter, police, and Wren. Picoult masterfully weaves backstory into the tension, and each character has a complex history that informs how they respond to the situation. I felt a great deal of empathy toward all involved, as if I personally knew them.

Plot

The plot counts backward, starting with the shooting and regressing to reveal how each person ended up at the Center. Tension is tight throughout, and despite numerous flashbacks, the pacing accelerates through each chapter.

Writing Style

As I alluded to earlier, Picoult weaves in character backstory throughout moments of high conflict to great effect. Her descriptions are eloquent, and her vignettes build enormous empathy for the characters and their struggles. The entire story is saturated with emotion, and the prose is beautiful. I can see why she is such a famous author.

Miscellaneous: Writer Bias

Abortion is a contentious topic in the US. If an author is passionate about it, I don’t believe bias-free writing is possible. I commend the author for poignantly capturing the complexities involved in abortion decisions.

While she makes many valid criticisms of the pro-life position, she also makes many errors. She often pits the worst/most fringe pro-life arguments against the best pro-choice ones, and some of her portrayals are hugely inaccurate. The book’s crisis pregnancy center is particularly laughable, but mischaracterizations plague most of the subplots.

Why should readers care?

Imagine this situation from the other side. Let’s say a pro-life author portrays pro-choice advocates legalizing infanticide. Are there pro-choice people who believe killing infants is morally acceptable? Yes—Alberto Giubilini, Francesca Minerva, and Peter Singer, to name a few—but this position is hardly mainstream. Polling consistently shows not only that pro-choice people are horrified by infanticide, but that they also strongly disapprove of third-trimester abortions. Such a portrayal would unfairly misrepresent the pro-choice position.

Genres like science fiction or dystopian fiction (e.g. The Handmaid’s Tale) are well-suited to exploring such extreme scenarios, but contemporary fiction ought to reflect real life. In portraying fringe or inaccurate positions as mainstream pro-life advocacy, Picoult diverges sharply from reality. This not only deceives readers, it breaks genre expectations.

Was this malicious intent by the author?

I doubt it. She took great pains to humanize her pro-life characters, even portraying the protestors being nice to the Clinic staff. I think she wanted to give the pro-life side fair treatment. She just isn’t familiar with good pro-life advocacy. Much like our hypothetical author who believes pro-choice advocates endorse infanticide, she believes pro-life advocacy conforms to her preconceived picture of it.

Secular Pro-life and Equal Rights Institute are two sources I recommend if you are interested in learning what pro-life advocates actually believe. I won’t list any arguments here (or in the comments) because this is a book review, not an abortion debate.

Conclusion

Was this a good book?

Yes. Ripe with tension from page one, this emotional journey back through time delves into the complexity involved in the abortion debate. Empathetic and heart-wrenching, each character’s story shows the breadth of reasons for ending up at the Center. The story humanizes women facing unplanned pregnancies and builds empathy for their difficult decisions. I’m glad I read it, and I would love to read more books on the topic—from either side.

Was this book the great bridge over the abortion divide the reviews claimed it was?

Not even close. Though the book claims to give voice to both sides, it unfairly misrepresents the pro-life position and, in many cases, is factually inaccurate.

Worth reading?

If you want a book that will keep your heart pounding from page one to “the end,” this is a great read. If you want a balanced view of abortion portrayed in fiction, keep looking.

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Before you comment

This is a book review, not an abortion debate. The comments section should reflect this.

  • If your comment pertains to this book, comment away.
  • If you have recommendations for other books—fiction, non-fiction, pro-choice, or pro-life—I’d love to read them in the comments.
  • If you want to pick a fight with people about abortion, skip the comments section and hop on twitter. You’ll find plenty of belligerent people there who will happily engage with you.

Book Review: Out of the Easy

A plucky bookworm struggling to overcome her mother’s legacy finds herself tangled with prostitutes, murderers, and the snobby elites whose approval she desperately craves. A great escape from the daily humdrum. I checked this out from the library before the hubby and I went on a big road trip, and I finished it in three days.

Out of the Easy by Ruta Sepetys

If you’ve followed me for a while, you know I love just about everything Ruta Sepetys writes. I checked this out from the library before the hubby and I went on a big road trip, and I finished it in three days.

Cover Description

“It’s 1950s, and as the French Quarter of New Orleans simmers with secrets, seventeen-year-old Josie Moraine is silently stirring a pot of her own. Known among locals as the daughter of a brothel prostitute, Josie wants more out of life than the Big Easy has to offer. She devises a plan to get into an elite college, but a mysterious death in the Quarter leaves Josie tangled in a police investigation that will challenge her allegiance to her mother, her conscience, and Willie Woodly, the brusque madam on Conti Street.”

Characters

Josie is a kindhearted and sharp-witted bookworm willing to do whatever it takes to make more of herself than her callous mother believes she can. She is so relatable as a character, it feels like her string of bad luck could happen to anyone. Her foibles make her human—daydreaming about her imaginary respectable father, predicting which books customers will buy, trying to get herself out of trouble without harming the only people she considers family. Josie is sweet, but she had the grit to get through the challenges life throws at her, and she’s not afraid to pull out her pistol when needed. The other characters are as quirky as one can imagine in a tale set in a city that is itself a character.

Plot

The plot is a steady cascade of minor mistakes and bad luck that make you ache for poor Josie. In my head, I kept thinking, “Don’t do that!” but I understood why she made the choices she did. The intrigue builds at a solid pace, and Josie gets herself increasingly tangled in it. The story itself is very approachable. It depicts a brothel without being grossly erotic, a murder without being gory, a romance without being schmaltzy, and a class war without being stereotypical. The ending ties the loose ends without feeling forced. A great read from start to finish.

Writing Style

Ruta Sepetys writes with the perfect balance of beauty and clarity. Her prose is precise, and her descriptions delve deep into the narrator’s mindset. Characters leap off the page until you can pick which actors would play them in the movie.

Conclusion

Filled with intrigue and set in remarkable 1950s New Orleans, Out of Easy is a quick read with just the right pacing and dynamic characters that tear through the pages. A plucky bookworm struggling to overcome her mother’s legacy finds herself tangled with prostitutes, murderers, and the snobby elites whose approval she desperately craves. A great escape from the daily humdrum. I highly recommend.


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Book Review: Blackbird and the Dark Side of the Moon

Since I already loved the characters from Light Tripper, I knew I would enjoy this novella as well. With a twisty plot and intriguing side characters, this creepy tale is perfect for Halloween.

Blackbird and the Dark Side of the Moon

Jo-Anne Tomlinson has a real talent for creepy Halloween stories. I loved her space opera, Light Tripper, and I was fortunate enough to receive an early review copy of this novella.

Description

Sal Tripp is an intergalactic bounty hunter with simple needs, but when her father loses their credits at the gambling table, she must accept whatever work she can find. When a handsome-but-mysterious captain offers her an exorbitant rate to transport him and his new crew of delinquents to his ship, she suspects trouble. Her financial woes compel her to accept the job, and her curiosity compels her to peek inside the ship, but there she’ll discover that “trouble” was an understatement.

Characters

Sal Tripp has more grit than a resurrection plant during the Dust Bowl. As a bounty hunter, she faces down space pirates and galactic gangsters with sharp wit and her evolving electric powers, all while keeping track of her addict pilot/father, Morgan. While Morgan often complicates their lives, his charm and affection earn Sal’s forgiveness.

Plot

The plot moves at a good clip as Sal’s curiosity—not to mention her crush on the captain—drive her toward inevitable danger. Once on the ship, Sal progresses through the type of horrors you’d expect from a good scare-your-pants-off Halloween story.

Writing Style

Jo-Anne Tomlinson has a genuine talent for creepy Halloween stories. You can almost hear the ominous music building to a crescendo as you read, and the story twangs with tension.

Miscellaneous

Readers should note that this is a Halloween story, meaning it contains several creepy/gory scenes. Light Tripper itself is not that gory, so readers with sensitive stomachs will still enjoy it.

Conclusion

Jo-Anne Tomlinson’s love of Halloween shines through every word in this novella. Since I already loved the characters from Light Tripper, I knew I would enjoy this novella as well. With a twisty plot and intriguing side characters, this creepy tale is perfect for Halloween. If you enjoy this kind of story, I also recommend her fantasy short story She brings the Harvest, and her contemporary young adult murder-mystery-thriller Shadows in the Water.


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Book Review: The Return

With a charming protagonist and intriguing premise, I can see how a devoted fan would love this book. As someone who merely grabbed it off the stack, my opinion differs slightly.

The Return by Nicholas Sparks

Though I’ve enjoyed a couple Nicholas Sparks’s books, I wouldn’t describe myself as one of his core readers. This one was a loan from the Library of Grandma. When reading it in public, I unwittingly gained entrance to a secret club of Nicholas Sparks fans who smiled and gave me an OMG-don’t-you-just-love-him look I didn’t quite understand. They asked which of his books was my favorite, with the expected reply apparently being ALL of them. After finishing, I determined 1) Nicholas Sparks’s books are best read in private because 2) Nicholas Sparks fans are a special breed of human who speak a language made almost entirely of sighs of longing.

Description

When a mortar blast injury sends surgeon Trevor Benson home from Afghanistan, he regroups in the dilapidated cabin he inherited from his grandfather. Love is the last thing he expects to find while tending his grandfather’s beehives, but the mysterious Natalie Masterson captures his attention. The deputy sheriff seems to reciprocate his feelings, but she reveals little of herself, even though she assists him in investigating his grandfather’s strange last words.

To discover the meaning of his grandfather’s final message, Trevor tries to recruit the sullen teenager from the trailer park down the road, Callie. She offers few clues until a crisis reveals a connection between the elderly man’s passing and her own troubled past.

Characters

Trevor Benson has the right mix of serious backstory and charm to make him intriguing and attractive to the average reader. I appreciated the openness with which he relates his struggles with PTSD and the positive light in which he views his mental health treatment. A devoted grandson and all-around good guy, he is easy to love.

Callie starts off as a flat character with stereotypical teenage stonewalling. She gains depth by the end, but I would have liked more of her situation to leak through earlier. Natalie is interesting at the outset, but her backstory is too predictable for the mystery to keep the reader’s attention.

Plot

The plot waffles between Trevor’s rapid-onset infatuation and the mystery of his grandfather’s last journey, which leads him to seek information from the sullen teenager. I liked that all the subplots intertwined in the end, but they felt disjointed toward the beginning, almost as if they were different books. I had trouble getting into this book and only finished because I wanted to return it to my grandmother when I visited.

Writing Style

Sparks’s prose is light in tone and full of detail, though far from breathtaking. The story reads like a walk through the neighborhood, ambling unhurriedly and stopping to appreciate life’s simple pleasures. Though hardly action-packed, the style was appropriate to the target audience.

Conclusion

With a charming protagonist and intriguing premise, I can see how a devoted Nicholas Sparks fan would love this book. As someone who merely grabbed it off the stack, I can say it was an enjoyable read, but one I’ll quickly forget. Too many subplots hindered my ability to engross myself in the story. While the author tackles many deep topics in the characters’ backstories, he takes too long to introduce them, and lacks time to explore them sufficiently before the end. As far as Nicholas Sparks books go, I much preferred Safe Haven and The Notebook.

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Book Review: Lilac Girls

If you liked The Alice Network, you’ll love this beautifully written, multi-perspective view into an event that crossed continents.

Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly

I celebrated my birthday during the state-wide stay-at-home order for coronavirus precautions, but a friend surprised me by dropping a package on my doorstep and singing “Happy Birthday” from my driveway. Knowing I couldn’t get enough WWII books, she gave me this one. It made my whole week.

Cover Description

“Caroline Ferriday is a former Broadway actress and liaison to the French consulate whose life is forever changed when Hitler’s army invades Poland in September 1939—and then sets its sights on France. An ocean away from Caroline, Kasia Kuzmerick, a Polish teenager, sinks deeper into her role as a courier for the underground resistance movement. In Germany, Herta Oberheuser, a young doctor, answers an ad for a government medical positions—only to find herself trapped in a male-dominated realm of Nazi secrets and power.

The lives of these three women are set on a collision course when the unthinkable happens and Kasia is sent to Ravensbrück, the notorious Nazi concentration camp for women. Their stories across continents, as Caroline and Kasia strive to bring justice to those whom history has forgotten.”

Characters

Caroline is not your typical New York socialite. She works tirelessly, for no pay, to help those in need, and her stubbornness accomplishes the impossible. Kasia begins the story as an innocent teen, pining for her first love, wishing for life to be normal again after the Nazis and Russians invade. The strength which helps her survive Ravensbrück later makes it difficult to let go of the rage she harbors within. Herta is a woman in a man’s world, striving to pursue her passion of surgery, forbidden to women, when she is swept up in the horrors of the Nazis concentration camp. This trifecta of perspectives provides a global, yet personal, view of a forgotten part of history.

For me, the most interesting perspective was Herta’s. I haven’t read too many books that include the perspective of the Nazis themselves. Despite having been indoctrinated into the Nazi mindset, her initial attitude toward the war is one of cold ambivalence. She only wants to become a surgeon, and when she first witnesses life at Ravensbrück, she plans to take the next train home. Circumstances “force” her to stay.

Her descent into the wickedness of that place kept me turning pages long after bedtime. She even found the Nazis’ new religion “convenient,” as it helped soothe her rioting conscience. No matter how much Herta rationalized her “patriotic” experiments, her “only chance” to become a surgeon, her body knew the truth. Plagued by sleepless nights, Anxiety, Depression, and engaging in self-harm, she is proof that evil takes its toll not only on the victims, but the perpetrators.

Plot

I love that this story does not end with the end of the war. It continues to describe Kasia’s—everybody’s—difficulty in readjusting to “normal” life. Kasia does not rejoice at the end of the war, for Poland trades Nazis for Soviets, an “even trade,” as she calls it. She wrestles with her guilt and her hate until the last page, unable to relate to her loved ones because of it.

Overall, the plot moves slow enough to make the horrors of WWII sink in, but fast enough to make you check the clock and think “When did it get that late?” It is a story of justice, reconciliation, and moving on.

Writing Style

I have been reading a lot of sparse prose in YA lately, so Kelly’s detail-rich writing a refreshing change. Her descriptions made me feel like I could paint each scene, but were not so thick as to slow the plot. Beautiful work.

Conclusion

I never tire of WWII stories. There is always something new to learn, an angle unseen until I crack open another book. If you liked The Alice Network, you’ll love this beautifully written, multi-perspective view into an event that crossed continents.


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This Tender Land

My Grandmother likes to support local authors, which for her means Minnesotan. Krueger is one of her favorites. He envisioned this book as an update of Huckleberry Finn, and he achieved that goal.

This Tender Land by William Kent Krueger

My Grandmother likes to support local authors, which for her means Minnesotan. Krueger is one of her favorites. This is the second one I’ve checked out from her library.

Cover Description

“In the summer of 1932, on the banks of Minnesota’s Gilead River, Odie O’Banion is an orphan confined to the Lincoln Indian Training School, a pitiless place where his lively nature earns him the superintendent’s wrath. Forced to flee after committing a terrible crime, he and his brother, Albert, their best friend, Mose, and a brokenhearted little girl named Emmy steal away in a canoe, heading for the mighty Mississippi and a place to call their own. Over the course of one summer, these four orphans journey into the unknown and cross paths with others who are adrift, from struggling farmers and traveling faith healers to displaced families and lost souls of all kinds.”

Characters

Odie is a classic rebel whose longing for a home and family makes him endearing. His spunk and ingenuity provide a great contrast to his strict brother and easy-going best friend, but what is most remarkable is how the characters change throughout the story. The Great Depression provides the fiery furnace to refine young boys into men, and each character’s unique skills play a part in their survival. Their struggles are at once heartbreaking and inspiring, and their loyalty to each other as family is a poignant reminder that love is stronger than blood.

Plot

The plot follows Odie and his friends as they flee the training school’s superintendent and head down the Mississippi River toward their aunt’s home in St. Louis. Along the way, they meet other down-and-out drifters, some alleys, some enemies, some a mixture of both. Overall, the story moves at a good pace and is engaging the entire length.

Writing Style

Krueger’s vivid descriptions capture the feel and struggle of The Great Depression. His prose moves smoothly across the page—neither overly descriptive nor sparse. Of the two of his books I’ve read, I liked this one best.

One thing I admire about Krueger’s writing is that he does not hesitate to portray history’s horrors, especially with the treatment of Native Americans. He sensitively portrays Mose coming to terms with his identity, his people’s history, and his friendship with three white kids.

Krueger also includes elements of mysticism in his writing, in this case with the faith healer and Emmy’s gift. I am not as big a fan of this, but I didn’t find it bothersome.

Conclusion

The author said he envisioned this book as an update of Huckleberry Finn, and he achieved that goal. His spunky protagonists and their harrowing journey capture the spirit of adventure endemic to that tale. Setting their adventure during The Great Depression immerses the reader in time and space much like Where the Crawdads Sing. Overall, their journey of hardship and friendship make for a brilliant read.

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Book Review: The Book of Lost Names

The Book of Lost Names has everything a reader could want—intrigue, heroism, romance, and of course, a special book.

The Book of Lost Names by Kristin Harmel

I have my book club to thank for this one, though I’ll admit I read it the month after we discussed it. Better late than never, right?

Cover Description

Eva Traube Abrams, a librarian near retirement, is shelving books when a magazine photograph catches her eye. It’s a book she hasn’t seen since the Nazis looted library in a small French town sixty-five years ago, one she dubbed The Book of Lost Names. Now, German researchers are trying to find the rightful owner, as well as crack the code inside it. Only Eva holds the answer.

In 1942, Eva fled Paris after the arrest of her father, a Polish Jew. Upon finding refuge in a small mountain town in the Free Zone, she forges documents to help smuggle Jewish children into Switzerland. Erasing people, and hiding her own faith, comes with a price, one confounded by her attraction to the Catholic forger named Rémy. To help make sense of her competing feelings, she insists on keeping a record of the children’s real names in The Book of Lost Names. The book becomes even more important when their resistance cell is betrayed and Rémy disappears.

Characters

Eva begins the story with clear plans for her English degree, but the war throws her life into chaos, creating immense emotional insecurity. Much of the story takes place inside Eva’s conflicted thoughts. Her guilt, her attraction to Rémy, her tense relationship with her mother, and her concern about the war all feature prominently—too much at first. I had trouble connecting with Eva because it felt like she did nothing but deliberate and worry. Perhaps I saw too much of myself in her. By the end, however, I was rooting for her, and I found the ending to the book emotionally moving.

Rémy is the generic gallant hero found so often in women’s fiction it’s almost cliché—but I liked him anyway. The Catholic priest is similarly standard, but again, I liked him anyway. To use another cliché: if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Eva’s mother was underdeveloped. Though her reactions to the circumstances were realistic, her behavior lacked cohesion, feeling…stringy. I can’t think of a better word. Toward the end, I wished the author had spent more time demonstrating the mother’s true feelings directly, instead of Eva hearing them by second-hand report.

Plot

The plot begins with the Nazi’s arrests, slows briefly while Eva establishes herself as a forger, but speeds up again toward the end when the conflict and drama intensify. I will admit I didn’t see the twist coming, but the author should have included more hints. I suspected someone else, and there wasn’t any reason to suspect the real betrayer. The personality change in the betrayer was too dramatic, too quick. Overall, the plot was well-rounded with enough ups and downs to keep me reading.

Writing Style

Harmel’s prose is simplistic but clear. Nothing to swoon over, but it gets the job done.

Miscellaneous

I never tire of reading WWII fiction. The conflict is a treasure trove of stories, and I’m sure we’ve barely scratched the surface. The heroism and self-sacrifice of that age inspire me. Sometimes wonder how my own generation would handle a similar situation. Not well, I fear, but perhaps I am too cynical.

Conclusion

The Book of Lost Names has everything a reader could want—intrigue, heroism, romance, and of course, a special book. Eva’s emotional turmoil is authentic, and her heroism inspiring. In simple but clear prose, Kristin Harmel adds another perspective to our understanding of one of the most defining conflicts of the twentieth century.


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Book Review: Another Kingdom

Hunted in two worlds, Austin Lively must discover truth behind his random teleportation. Another Kingdom’s quick-paced, danger-filled plot and unique concept is the perfect escapism book. While the prose lacks artistry, it is easy to read.

Another Kingdom by Andrew Klavan

A gal from my book club recommended this book, and I enjoyed the escapism it offered. This book began as a podcast and has an episodic feel to it. The author also makes political satire videos, and those undertones are present in the book.

Cover Description

“Austin Lively is a struggling, disillusioned screenwriter whose life is suddenly changed forever when he opens a door and is unwittingly transported to a fantastical medieval realm. Austin finds himself wielding a bloody dagger while standing over a very beautiful and very dead woman. Bewildered and confused, he is seized by castle guards and thrown in a dungeon. Just when he beings to fear the worst, he is suddenly transported back to reality in LA.

Stuck between dual realities—charged for a murder he doesn’t recall in one and running from a maniacal billionaire who’s determined to kill him in another—Austin’s monotonous life has become and epic adventure of magic, murder, and political intrigue in both the New Republic of Galiana and the streets of Los Angeles, California.”

Character

Austin Lively is a standard Hollywood never-was living in his successful brother’s shadow and trying to keep his conspiracy-obsessed sister out of trouble. Too burned out to strive for career success but not seeing other options, his monotonous life devolves into chaos when he is launched to another world. Through his cynical, average-Joe eyes, the epic adventure is at first ridiculous, but as he grows into the hero he needs to be, it becomes more meaningful.

Plot

Another Kingdom falls squarely into the category of plot-driven novel. Klavan cuts between high-action plotlines in each “kingdom,” keeping the reader engaged throughout. Danger and intrigue fill even the spaces between the lines. Quick-paced and exciting, this book is easily digested.

Writing Style

The narrating voice is the novel’s main strength. From page one, readers are immersed in Austin Lively’s perspective. His cynical view colors his descriptions of even mundane aspects of life, and within a paragraph I felt as if I’d known Austin for years and could predict his reactions.

In keeping with the tight-pacing, the author’s writing style consists of short, simple sentences, most of which begin with “I.” An overabundance of “suddenly” is peppered throughout. While you don’t have to think hard to read the prose, it lacks aesthetic appeal.

Miscellaneous

Extreme feminists may find his descriptions of women offensive—he often praises their beauty, “softness,” and femininity. I found it quaint, so much so I checked the publication date to see whether this book was written fifty years ago. Nope. 2018. Guess Klavan is just a traditionalist.

Conclusion

Another Kingdom’s quick-paced, danger-filled plot and unique concept is the perfect escapism book. While the prose lacks artistry, it is easy to read.


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Another Kingdom

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