The Fountains of Silence by Ruta Sepetys

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Madrid, 1957. Under the fascist dictatorship of General Francisco Franco, Spain is hiding a dark secret. Meanwhile, tourists and foreign businessmen flood into Spain under the welcoming guise of sunshine and wine. Among them is eighteen-year-old Daniel Matheson, the son of a Texas oil tycoon, who arrives in Madrid with his parents hoping to connect with the country of his mother’s birth through the lens of his camera. Photography–and fate–introduce him to Ana, whose family’s interweaving obstacles reveal the lingering grasp of the Spanish Civil War–as well as chilling definitions of fortune and fear. Daniel’s photographs leave him with uncomfortable questions amidst shadows of danger. He is backed into a corner of decisions to protect those he loves. Lives and hearts collide, revealing an incredibly dark side to the sunny Spanish city.

Master storyteller Ruta Sepetys once again shines light into one of history’s darkest corners in this epic, heart-wrenching novel about identity, unforgettable love, repercussions of war, and the hidden violence of silence–inspired by the true post-war struggles of Spain.

 

I got this ARC at Book Con this year and have really been anticipating it. Ruta is one of my favorite authors.

I really love that she writes historical fiction based on events that are not widely known.
In school I learned about the horrible dictatorships of Hitler, Stalin, and Mussolini. But they did not cover anything about Franco. They should.

“Between 1939 and the late 1980s, it is alleged that over 300,000 babies were stolen from their birth mothers and sold into adoption.” -Lucia Benavides.

CAN YOU EVEN FATHOM THAT!? It breaks my heart.

Then at the end they talk about amnesty. For stealing 300,000 babies? NO WAY! I wouldn’t grant it. There should be trials like they had for the Nazis. (I should look up if amnesty was granted or not.)

There is a quote at the beginning of the book, an anonymous epitaph from the Spanish Civil War mass grave that says, “We have only died if you forget us.”

You are not forgotten, and I think more authors should tell their stories.

I loved Daniel and Ana so much. Their stories and their families’ stories were so full of life. I really felt their feelings and became so invested in their fates. I was a mess of tears by the end. I didn’t care that I was on public transit.

I also loved how the novel told different POVs of living under Franco’s oppression. The fear, the rebellious streak, and even the indoctrination.

The inclusion of articles from presidents, ambassadors, and news clippings were insightful. As were the photographs at the end. Very fitting for a story that showed the importance and strength of photography.

As someone who was brought up Catholic, one part that really stood out to me was when all the characters were going to Confession and how differently they all felt about the Sacrament.

I feel like this may be my favorite of Ruta’s books. I haven’t figure out why that is yet. But I love all of her books that I read.

Some of my favorite quotes: (Yes, I know it’s an ARC but these quotes speak so strongly and I hope they are in the final version.)

Page 12: Photographs are spontaneous and exciting, something that he creates, not inherits.

Page 36: Julia’s fingers are silent narrators, embroidered with scars.

Page 214: God forgive me if I am wrong. If I am right, there is no forgiveness for you.

Page 278: But one day, far into the future when the pain is less sharp, the voices of the dead will find harmony with the living.

5 out of 5 Rolls of Film.

I did have one question and one wish but they are spoilers:

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The Last Collection: A Novel of Elsa Schiaparelli and Coco Chanel by Jeanne Mackin

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An American woman becomes entangled in the intense rivalry between iconic fashion designers Coco Chanel and Elsa Schiaparelli in this captivating novel from the acclaimed author of The Beautiful American.

Paris, 1938. Coco Chanel and Elsa Schiaparelli are fighting for recognition as the most successful and influential fashion designer in France, and their rivalry is already legendary. They oppose each other at every turn, in both their politics and their designs: Chanel’s are classic, elegant, and practical; Schiaparelli’s bold, experimental, and surreal.

When Lily Sutter, a recently widowed young American teacher, visits her brother, Charlie, in Paris, he insists on buying her a couture dress–a Chanel. Lily, however, prefers a Schiaparelli. Charlie’s beautiful and socially prominent girlfriend soon begins wearing Schiaparelli’s designs as well, and much of Paris follows in her footsteps.

Schiaparelli offers budding artist Lily a job at her store, and Lily finds herself increasingly involved with Schiaparelli and Chanel’s personal war. Their fierce competition reaches new and dangerous heights as the Nazis and the looming threat of World War II bear down on Paris.

 

I won this ARC through a Goodreads giveaway! My first win! Thank you to Goodreads and Berkley Pub.

I was very interested in this novel because not only do I love Historical Fiction but I also love fashion. I was surprised to learn by reading other reviews – and even from my own sister – that they never heard of Elsa Schiaparelli. I assume it is because the Chanel brand still exists and Schiaparelli went out of business.

Although I knew about the lasting fashion influences and the signature looks of Schiaparelli and Chanel, I was not familiar with their political beliefs nor what they did and were accused of before and during World War II. Jeanne Mackin really did her research well and I learned a lot about both iconic designers.

(Side note: I learned that Schiaparelli’s daughter had polio, and her granddaughter, Berry, married Tony Perkins and she died in the 9/11 attacks. Berry was on one of the planes that went into the World Trade center. I was shocked.)

The novel is a great blend of historical and fictional elements as told by the fictional character of Lily. I saw some reviews mention that they wished it was just from the point of view of Schiaparelli and Chanel, and that Lily was a dull and unnecessary narrator. I disagree. Through Lily get to know these influential designers, but it is not just about their rivalry. We also get to see the beautiful city of Paris pre-WWII and the people who live there and then see the sad, sometimes bitter-sweet, aftermath of WWII.

My one critique for not giving the novel a perfect score is that sometimes, not overwhelmingly so, but sometimes it did get a little bit repetitive.

There were a few quotes I really liked. I know they say not to quote an ARC and check it against the final publication, but I am not doing that. Do it yourself 😉

This one made me laugh. Page 134: Men who persist in the belief that women are soft, sentimental creatures have never worked in the fashion industry.
4 out of 5 Couture Gowns

Magruder’s Curiosity Cabinet, by H.P. Wood

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A hypnotic debut in turn-of-the-century Coney Island, where an abandoned girl collides with a disgruntled menage of circus freaks.

Kitty Hayward and her mother are ready to experience the spectacles of Coney Island’s newest attraction, the Dreamland amusement park. But when Kitty’s mother vanishes from their hotel, she finds herself penniless, alone, and far from her native England. The last people she expects to help are the cast of characters at Magruder’s Curiosity Cabinet, a museum of oddities. From con men to strongmen, from flea wranglers to lion tamers, Kitty’s new friends quickly adopt her and vow to help find the missing Mrs. Hayward. But even these unusual inhabitants may not be a match for the insidious sickness that begins to spread through Coney Island…or the panic that turns Dreamland into a nightmare.

With shades of Water For Elephants and The Museum of Extraordinary Things, Magruder’s Curiosity Cabinet sweeps readers into a mesmerizing world where nothing is as it seems, and where “normal” is the exception to the rule.”

I received this book through Net Galley.

Magruder’s Curiosity Cabinet was a wonderful story. I really felt for many of the characters and their journey. I even loved the weird and mystical Curiosity Cabinet, which was a character too. The Cabinet and Timur’s inventions reminded me a bit of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. Because of that magical feeling I put aside some of my reservations about the end and how quickly some characters recovered.

They say write what you know and it shows. The author is the granddaughter of a mad inventor and a sideshow magician. I also loved the author’s notes about what was historically accurate and what was historical fiction. I am interested in looking into some of her recommendations that helped her writing.

I have family in Brooklyn near Coney Island, so I have spent time there, and I loved reading the descriptions of the place. It felt like home and I became giddy as I recognized the places.

When Hoffman Island and Swinburne Island were mentioned I knew exactly where they were. In the early 1900s, the islands were used as a quarantine station, housing immigrants found to have been carrying contagious diseases when they landed at Ellis Island.

Magruder’s Curiosity Cabinet is a spectacular story and definitely worth reading, especially if you like magical and anything Unusual.

4 out 5 Boxing Kangaroos

Salt to the Sea, by Ruta Sepetys

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Winter, 1945. Four teenagers. Four secrets.

Each one born of a different homeland; each one hunted, and haunted, by tragedy, lies…and war.

As thousands of desperate refugees flock to the coast in the midst of a Soviet advance, four paths converge, vying for passage aboard the Wilhelm Gustloff, a ship that promises safety and freedom.

Yet not all promises can be kept.

Inspired by the single greatest tragedy in maritime history, bestselling and award-winning author Ruta Sepetys (Between Shades of Gray) lifts the veil on a shockingly little-known casualty of World War II. An illuminating and life-affirming tale of heart and hope.

“The sinking of the Gustloff is the largest maritime disaster, yet the world still knows nothing of it. I often wonder, will that ever change or will it remain just another secret swallowed by war?” – page 178.

I loved Salt to the Sea. The true events in this historical fiction is sadly a forgotten part of history. I am glad that Ruta wrote this novel so that people will know about the disaster and over 9,000 lives lost (5,000 were children) when the Wilhelm Gustloff sank. I love what she said in her author’s note at the end (which I encourage any reader to read before starting the story),

“When the survivors are gone we must not let the truth disappear with them. Please give them a voice.”

The multiple character POVs was well done. We got to see the war and people’s experiences through different eyes. I loved the evolution of the characters’ secrets. The introductions were brilliantly done to set the tone: Guilt/fate/shame/fear is a hunter.

The Wilhelm Gustloff sunk in under an hour and so the suspense during the sinking was fast and intense.

I am going to get into some spoilers below. You’ve been warned.

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Anna and the Swallow Man by Gavriel Savit

Kraków, 1939. A million marching soldiers and a thousand barking dogs. This is no place to grow up. Anna Łania is just seven years old when the Germans take her father, a linguistics professor, during their purge of intellectuals in Poland. She’s alone.

And then Anna meets the Swallow Man. He is a mystery, strange and tall, a skilled deceiver with more than a little magic up his sleeve. And when the soldiers in the streets look at him, they see what he wants them to see.

The Swallow Man is not Anna’s father—she knows that very well—but she also knows that, like her father, he’s in danger of being taken, and like her father, he has a gift for languages: Polish, Russian, German, Yiddish, even Bird. When he summons a bright, beautiful swallow down to his hand to stop her from crying, Anna is entranced. She follows him into the wilderness.

Over the course of their travels together, Anna and the Swallow Man will dodge bombs, tame soldiers, and even, despite their better judgment, make a friend. But in a world gone mad, everything can prove dangerous. Even the Swallow Man.

I received an ARC from First In Line. Thank you, First In Line! It was their pick of the month for December. (Yes, I know I am late but it is what it is.) The novel’s release date is January 26th.

Anna and the Swallow Man is a really beautiful story. It is being compared to The Book Thief, both were edited by Erin Clarke (she stated so herself in her letter to the readers). The biggest similarities are that both take place during World War II and center around a young girl.

The prose of Anna and the Swallow Man took some time to get used to. Savit is very poetic in his descriptions of the characters and the settings. There were many uses of metaphors (Wolves for the German Nazis and Bears for the Soviet Russians) that I liked. What also appealed to me was that both Anna and the Swallow Man were multi-linual. Language was a big factor in the story and one line that really stood out to me was “‘War’ is a heavy word in every language.”

I loved the characters (I loved Reb Hirschl most of all – he brought a lighter heart to the story). At times I felt fear for them, as well as hope. There was suspense, some magic, folklore, and heartbreak.
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Book Review of Enchantress: A Novel of Rav Hisda’s Daughter by Maggie Anton.

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Fantastic tales of demons and the Evil Eye, magical incantations, and powerful attractions abound in Enchantress, a novel that weaves together Talmudic lore, ancient Jewish magic, and a timeless love story set in fourth-century Babylonia.

One of the most powerful practitioners of these mysterious arts is Rav Hisda’s daughter, whose innate awareness allows her to possess the skills men lack. With her husband, Rava–whose arcane knowledge of the secret Torah enables him to create a “man” out of earth and to resurrect another rabbi from death–the two brave an evil sorceress, Ashmedai the Demon King, and even the Angel of Death in their quest to safeguard their people, even while putting their romance at risk.

The author of the acclaimed Rashi’s Daughters series and the award-winning Rav Hisda’s Daughter: Apprentice has conjured literary magic in the land where “abracadabra” originated. Based on five years of research and populated with characters from the Talmud, Enchantress brings a pivotal era of Jewish and Christian history to life from the perspective of a courageous and passionate woman.

 

This was a difficult novel for me to finish. It shouldn’t take me over 2 weeks to finish a novel. I received an ARC through First to Read from Penguin Group. It is actually the sequel to Apprentice: A Novel of Love, the Talmud, and Sorcery, but I did not know that until I finished reading and looked up other reviews on Goodreads.

I will start on a positive note and say it was interesting to learn about Talmudic lore and the history of Babylonia. The story is incredibly well researched.

However, I found at times the story would get weighted down with too many discussions or debats on Jeweish laws and customs, especially when the topic was not relevant to the central story. After a while I began to skim those parts.

There was much potential but I felt the focus of the story was slow and often had no direction.

Also I feel the pacing can be summed up well through this quote from page 362:
“That year in Pumbedita before Rava and I became betrothed had felt interminable, yet now it seemed that no sooner did we dismantle one year’s sukkah than it was time to build another.”
Slow beginning with the end often being described in a summary year to year.

There was so much time spent on Hisdadukh and Rava’s courtship and not enough on her sorcery. Training with her mother would have been cool to see. I mean the title is Enchantress after all.

The end battle was anti-climatic because the rivalry with the evil sorceress, Zafnat, was incredibly underdeveloped. Her presence in the story happens less than a handful of times.

The family dynamics were well developed. There were some humorous parts as well.

I did like Hisdadukh very much. She was strong, intelligent, could hold her own in difficult situations and was independently wealthy from her husband. I also liked that Rava was a supportive husband. He had his issues with his ego, and sometimes I would roll my eyes, but he wasn’t a bad guy. They were two people I would root for.

Ultimately, it was too slow to develop and I often felt uninspired to continue. I kept waiting for Zafnat to evoke the Evil Eye and create many conflicts directly toward Hisdadukh. (Even Ashmedai the Demon King was boring.) Instead it felt very much like reading a day by day, or a year by year diary.

2.5 out of 5 Incantation Bowls. 

I do like the book cover. I think it is so pretty.

Book Review: Savage Girl by Jean Zimmerman

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Savage Girl introduces us to Bronwyn, a strong, independent girl who is adopted by a wealthy Manhattan couple. She takes her new world by storm as suitors find her irresistible…and deadly.


A riveting tale from the author of The Orphanmaster about a wild girl from Nevada who lands in Manhattan’s Gilded Age society

Jean Zimmerman’s new novel tells of the dramatic events that transpire when an alluring, blazingly smart eighteen-year-old girl named Bronwyn, reputedly raised by wolves in the wilds of Nevada, is adopted in 1875 by the Delegates, an outlandishly wealthy Manhattan couple, and taken back East to be civilized and introduced into high society.

Bronwyn hits the highly mannered world of Edith Wharton–era Manhattan like a bomb. A series of suitors, both young and old, find her irresistible, but the willful girl’s illicit lovers begin to turn up murdered.

Zimmerman’s tale is narrated by the Delegate’s son, a Harvard anatomy student. The tormented, self-dramatizing Hugo Delegate speaks from a prison cell where he is prepared to take the fall for his beloved Savage Girl. This narrative—a love story and a mystery with a powerful sense of fable—is his confession.

(Note: I originally wrote this review on March 14, 2014)

I was randomly selected to receive an advanced digital copy of this novel through this site I signed up to. Which is pretty cool and exciting.

It really took me a while to get used to the prose. At times the descriptions would be quite poetic. (Page 80: No other landscape I had ever experienced more proved the point that beauty and terror are sisters. I stared out at the desert and felt its challenge.)

I liked the historical fiction aspect when it came to reading about America’s landscape and city life in the late 1800’s. However, the author would get too carried away until it became a rambling tangent that interrupted the narrative. It also did not make it easier to read when it came to Hugo’s present day confession and the words exchanged between Hugo and his laywers were not in quotations. I often had to reread paragraphs to figure out what was said out loud and by whom.

I understand why Hugo was the narrator, it is a confession after all and makes for an interesting twist, but I often found him unlikable. Also, when he was not at home with Bronwyn I found him a bit dull. I was curious to see Bronwyn’s transformation through another character’s point of view. Perhaps Tu-Li or Tahktoo.

All that being said, I pushed through. I found it picked up in Part 2 and became an interesting mystery. I liked the philosophical nature vs. nurture brought up in the story. I enjoyed the story and am glad I pushed through to finish it, but I cannot say I loved it.

Overall I would rate it 3 out of 5 suitors.