Mini-Reviews: Gentleman, Goodbye, First

Amor Towles, A Gentleman in Moscow

In 1922, Count Alexander Ilyich Rostov is arrested and tried for the crime of being an aristocrat. But because he once wrote a poem with a revolutionary message, he isn’t immediately killed; instead, he is sentenced to house arrest for life in Moscow’s Metropol Hotel. As Alexander lives out his days in the Metropol, he befriends a variety of people, including hotel employees, Party officials, a beautiful actress, and (most significantly) a solemn young girl named Nina. Despite the turbulent political situation in the country as a whole, this novel focuses on one man’s life as he adapts to extraordinary circumstances. Like everyone else, I loved this book! The pace is slow, and there aren’t many dramatic events, but it felt like real life to me. There are some delicious satirical jabs at the broader political situation in Russia/the USSR, but the novel focuses primarily on Alexander’s own experiences. I would definitely recommend this to anyone who enjoys historical fiction!

Beatriz Williams, Lauren Willig, and Karen White, All the Ways We Said Goodbye

This is one of those historical novels with multiple storylines set in three different time periods. In 1914, Aurélie de Courcelles abandons her luxurious life with her mother at the Paris Ritz and runs to her father’s ancestral home, which is later invaded by German soldiers. In 1942, Daisy Villon is primarily concerned with keeping herself and her children safe in occupied France, but she is eventually drawn into the resistance effort and an illicit love affair. And in 1964, Babs Langford travels from England to Paris in search of information about her deceased husband’s war years. Overall, I liked this book and found it entertaining; there’s a lot of drama and excitement to keep the pages turning, and I do love a good WW2 spy plot. On the other hand, the plot twists and “reveals” are quite predictable. And while I liked all three stories, I think they were a little much for one book; perhaps the authors should have eliminated the 1964 story and focused on the other two in greater depth. As I said, I enjoyed the book overall, but I didn’t like it as much as these authors’ previous book, The Glass Ocean.

Kate Clayborn, Love at First

Nora Clarke loves her Chicago apartment building; her happiest childhood memories were spent there with her grandmother, and she’s known and loved her neighbors all her life. So when the building’s owner dies and his nephew, Will Sterling, inherits it, Nora is terrified that things will change. In fact, Will has no interest in owning or living in the building, so he decides to rent out his uncle’s unit to short-term tenants. Aghast, Nora is determined to stop him; but the more time she spends trying to persuade Will, the more she is attracted to him. I was a bit nervous about this book since I enjoyed Love Lettering so much, but thankfully I ended up loving this one too! I liked that the characters actually move on from the apartment conflict pretty quickly; they each come to understand the other’s position and are both willing to compromise. The real obstacles to their relationship are their fears and insecurities, which I found very realistic. I was rooting so hard for Will and Nora, and I enjoyed the quirky secondary characters as well (Will’s buttoned-up boss might be my favorite). And as with Love Lettering, I adored Kate Clayborn’s writing style. Fans of contemporary romance with minimal drama, where people actually deal with their problems like adults, should definitely check out this author!

Mini-Reviews #6: Dog days

I can see the light at the end of the tunnel for these mini-reviews! I’ll do this post and one more, and then I should finally be caught up! *sobs with relief*

Murder on the LusitaniaSingle Girl's To-Do List, The

Conrad Allen, Murder on the Lusitania — This is a fairly pedestrian mystery novel set during the Lusitania’s maiden voyage, where ship’s detective George Porter Dillman thinks he’ll have to deal with nothing more exciting than a few thefts. Of course, when an unpopular journalist is murdered on board, Dillman has to investigate–and choose between two women, the beautiful but aloof Genevieve and the happy-go-lucky Ellen. I didn’t particularly like this book, mostly because the characters annoyed me. Dillman is too smug and superior, and Genevieve seems more like a male fantasy than an actual person. The solution to the mystery was fine but seemed to come out of nowhere–or perhaps I just stopped paying attention too soon. Overall, a very “meh” read, and I feel no desire to continue with the series.

Lindsey Kelk, The Single Girl’s To-Do List — After enjoying Always the Bridesmaid, I had to track down another Lindsey Kelk novel, and this one did not disappoint! Rachel has just been dumped by her long-term boyfriend and has basically forgotten how to be single, so her two best friends create “the single girl’s to-do list” to force her out of her comfort zone. I really liked that Rachel’s friendships were so central in the novel, remaining constant throughout her tumultuous love life. Of course, the ultimate romance comes as no surprise, and I would have liked the hero to be a little more fleshed out. Nonetheless, I liked this book a lot and will continue to read more by Kelk.

CotillionBetween Shades of Gray Blackmoore

Georgette Heyer, Cotillion — One of my very favorite Heyer novels, mainly thanks to its delightful hero, Freddy! He is a wonderfully unconventional leading man: not particularly handsome, not a ladies’ man, not overly burdened with brains. In fact, he reminds me of a slightly more functional Bertie Wooster. But of course, his “street smarts” and kind heart ultimately win the day!

Ruta Sepetys, Between Shades of Gray — This World War II novel centers around an aspect of the war that is sadly often forgotten. The narrator, Lina, is a 15-year-old Lithuanian girl who is abducted one night, along with her mother and brother, by the NKVD. Lina describes the horrible tortures and indignities she and her fellow prisoners suffer, as well as the desperate hope that somehow her father will find her. My favorite thing about this book is that many of the characters are portrayed with some complexity. For example, one of Lina’s fellow prisoners is a cranky old man who constantly complains, yet in the end he manages to do something heroic. Similarly, one of the Soviet guards is deeply conflicted about his cruel actions. But some of the other characters–particularly Lina’s saintly mother–remain annoyingly simplistic. I also wasn’t a fan of the flashbacks to Lina’s carefree earlier life; they were too jarring for me. Still, I liked the book overall, and I think it tells a story that needs to be told.

Julianne Donaldson, Blackmoore — Kate Worthington wants nothing more than to escape her horrible family and go to live in India with her aunt. But her mother refuses to let her go, finally delivering an ultimatum: if Kate wants to go to India, she must first receive–and reject–three marriage proposals. Since Kate is not beautiful and flirtatious like her sister, she despairs at first. But when she is invited to the estate of her old friends, Sylvia and Henry Delafield, she reasons that she can at least try. Of course, she doesn’t expect to fall in love along the way. While this book is extremely predictable, I have to say that I enjoyed it anyway! My biggest complaint is that it takes Kate far too long to realize that her ideal mate is right in front of her, head over heels in love. The Big Misunderstanding could easily have been solved with a little rational communication! I should also note that the book is subtitled “A Proper Romance,” which essentially just means it’s rated PG; there’s nothing explicitly religious or preachy about it. All in all, this was a pleasant read that satisfied my craving for a Regency romance.

Review: The Day Lasts More Than a Hundred Years

Day Lasts More Than a Hundred Years, TheChingiz Aitmatov, The Day Lasts More Than a Hundred Years (trans. John French)

Set in Kazakhstan in the latter half of the 20th century, this novel centers around Yedigei, a railway worker at the isolated Boranly-Burannyi train station in the middle of the steppe. He has lived with his wife and daughters in the tiny community by this train station for many years, and the other families who live there are practically his family also. When his neighbor and friend Kazangap dies, Yedigei takes responsibility for burying him properly at the ancient Kazakh cemetery of Ana-Beiit, even though it is a long journey from Boranly-Burannyi. Yedigei is able to arrange a small funeral procession that includes several men from the village, a camel, and even a tractor. As the procession makes its way through the steppe, Yedigei reflects on his relationship with Kazangap and on several other significant events in his life. Eventually, his quest collides with a momentous scientific discovery involving contact with intelligent life on another planet.

For me, this book was very put-down-able; I never felt like I simply had to know what was going to happen next. Nonetheless, I was surprised by how much I ultimately enjoyed the story. It certainly took me to an entirely different place and time — I’ve barely read any Soviet literature, and I definitely haven’t read anything set in Kazakhstan before. I think the book wonderfully describes Yedigei’s way of life in a way that is both very specific and somehow accessible to contemporary Western readers. I also loved the meditative quality of the prose, which is enhanced by the frequent repetition of certain phrases and paragraphs throughout the book. The bulk of the novel is told in flashback as Yedigei recalls various incidents, and these flashbacks provide most of the plot. In the book’s present, not much actually happens, but I never felt like things were moving too slowly. The sci-fi aspect of the plot seemed pretty disposable to me, but I was certainly curious while reading to see how it would connect with Yedigei’s story! Overall, even though this book wasn’t a page-turner, I’m really glad I stuck with it.