Rosie’s #BookReview Team #RBRT #FamilyDrama THE SUM OF OUR SORROWS by @LisetteBrodey

Today’s team review is from Sue. She blogs here

#RBRT Review Team

Sue has been reading The Sum Of Our Sorrows by Lisette Brodey

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4/5 stars

This book is an emotional roller coaster ride. It begins at the funeral of a mother of three, who died in a horrific car crash, while her middle child, Charlotte, watched, and continues relentlessly as her family tries to deal with the emotional and psychological  fallout caused by this tragedy.

Lily, the eldest daughter and main character of this book, has her life turned upside down almost immediately by her stern, unlikeable father announcing that she must take over both running the household and raising her two younger sisters, while forgoing her job at the diner with her friends and also her place at design school in LA in the Fall. Try as I might to forgive the widowed father’s stern demeanor and cold manner towards his girls I found him completely unlikeable and the way he disregarded his grieving eldest child’s needs unforgivable.

I enjoyed the adorable sisterly dynamic between the three girls, particularly the close bond between Lily and her youngest sister Willow. The antagonism between the middle child, Charlotte and her replacement caregiver, Lily was frustrating and I kept yelling at my Kindle that the whole family needed grief counseling!!

The youngest daughter, Willow does seem to be written much older than twelve. I have a twelve year old son and most communication consists of grunts and declarations of hunger!!

I also think most nineteen year olds are much more self-centered than poor put-upon, modern day Cinderella, Lily. However mild mannered she might be I think she would have railed against her father’s decisions much more and something would have given sooner than it actually did. Lily is also far too insightful for her years. There is a conversation after a party, where she talks like she has so much life and relationship experience to draw from.

Charlotte’s nightmare helps Lily understand exactly how traumatized Charlotte is:

“Charlotte opened her eyes, her tear-streaked face and look of absolute terror hitting Lily in a way she hadn’t allowed herself to fully grasp before. In that moment, Lily was there in the car during the tragic moment that changed her family’s lives forever. She saw her mother’s light go out in as little time as it took to scream her name. “

None of the characters in this book have an easy ride, there is so much pain and suffering, whether caused by events in the story or in the characters’ pasts. Dak, who Lily becomes reacquainted with in Malibu, has some insight into how to keep going when consumed by tragedy:

“And then I thought about the waves … they drew me here too. Look at how they break … but see how they gather their strength and form again … only to keep breaking … over and over again? This is exactly what life makes us do if we want to keep going. We have to learn how to break.”

The second half of the book moves away from the tragic events of the first and we meet a larger than life waitress called Bonnie, short for Bonstance Constance Universe. She is quite a character. Her turn of phrase is unique and hysterical.

The story also develops into a love story at this point and I found myself relieved for Lily that she was finally catching a break!

There are themes in this story which could act as triggers for certain readers. That is all I am prepared to say without “spoiling” anything!

I enjoyed The Sum of Our Sorrows and read it fairly quickly. I did feel that all the loose ends got tied together a bit too nicely in a bow at the end – but I was willing to suspend my disbelief in light of all the separate tragedies these poor people had suffered!

Book description

In an idyllic suburb in Northern California, tragedy strikes the Sheppard family when Abby, the mother of three daughters and wife to Dalton, is killed in a car accident. Charlotte, the middle daughter, is in the car with her mother and survives without physical injury but remains deeply scarred on the inside.

Dalton tells Lily, his eldest daughter, that she must sacrifice long-awaited college plans and put her life on hold to take care of her sisters. Lily is torn between her devotion to family and an increasing need to find her place in the world — but how can she leave, knowing her family may crumble?

Will her presence eventually cause more problems than it resolves?

The Sum of our Sorrows reveals how the aftermath of a family tragedy can precipitate sorrows never imagined.

It is a tale of grief, hope, healing, coming-of-age, friendship, and survival. It is also a love story of two broken souls living through pain in search of better days and the renewal of one’s spirit.

AmazonUK | AmazonUS

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Rosie’s #Bookreview Of #WW2 #Histfic WHILE PARIS SLEPT by Ruth Druart

While Paris SleptWhile Paris Slept by Ruth Druart

3 stars

While Paris Slept is World War Two historical fiction, and is the story of two Parisian couples.  David and Sarah were loaded onto one of the last trains to Auschwitz; in desperation Sarah gave her newly born baby to a railway worker before she was forced onto the train.

Jean-Luc repaired the Paris railway lines used to transport Jews to the work camp; he hated working for the Germans and wanted to do something to stop them. When a French women desperately forced her baby into his arms before she was herded onto one of the trains, he vowed to look after it. On that day he shot a guard. Fearing the Germans, he left Paris with his girlfriend Charlotte; they went south, escaping to Spain and then America with baby Samuel.

Years later David and Sarah searched for Samuel; they wanted him back, but taking a nine-year-old away from all that he knew was handled badly and didn’t work out the way that they hoped.

The story moves back and forth between several characters in two timelines: 1944 and 1953. The ending tugged on my emotional strings, but I’m afraid that it was the only part of the book which I empathised with.

I’m a fan of books set in this era, but this book didn’t work for me; too many convenient events and situations made this feel like I was hearing about someone else’s story, rather than believing the one being played by these characters. Where was the grit, tension and real fear of arrest from the Germans? Where were the emotions and despair which surrounded the horrors of Auschwitz?

This is a long book, told from multiple points of view; I found myself frustrated by parts which added very little to the story, while other areas glossed over important facts. For instance, the escape through France and across The Pyrenees would have been fraught with terror and hardships, while I doubt very much that you could have walked into the house of a resistance member with ease. Once they got to Spain, it would have been extremely dangerous in the foothills, yet our heroes were welcomed into the first farmhouse that they came to.  

A good story potentially exists within the covers of this book; I just wanted it to have deeper character development and a bit more work on making the plot plausible for my liking. I’m sure that there will be readers who will find this story lovely, but I found it disappointing.

View all my reviews on Goodreads

Book description

A family’s love is tested when heroes-turned-criminals are forced to make the hardest decisions of their lives in this unforgettably moving story of love, resistance, and the lasting consequences of the Second World War.

After. Santa Cruz, California, 1953. Jean-Luc and Charlotte Beauchamps have left their war-torn memories of Paris behind to live a quiet life in America with their son, Sam. They have a house in the suburbs, they’ve learned to speak English, and they have regular get-togethers with their outgoing American neighbors. Every minute in California erases a minute of their lives before — before the Germans invaded their French homeland and incited years of violence, hunger, and fear. But their taste of the American Dream shatters when officers from the U.N. Commission on War Crimes pull-up outside their home and bring Jean-Luc in for questioning.

Before. Paris, France, 1944. Germany has occupied France for four years. Jean-Luc works at the railway station at Bobigny, where thousands of Jews travel each day to be “resettled” in Germany. But Jean-Luc and other railway employees can’t ignore the rumors or what they see on the tracks: too many people are packed into the cars, and bodies are sometimes left to be disposed of after a train departs. Jean-Luc’s unease turns into full-blown panic when a young woman with bright green eyes bursts from the train one day alongside hundreds of screaming, terrified passengers, and pushes a warm, squirming bundle into his arms.

Told from alternating perspectives, While Paris Slept reflects on the power of love, loss, and the choices a mother will make to ensure the survival of her child. At once a visceral portrait of family ties and a meditation on nurture’s influence over identity, this heartbreaking debut will irreversibly take hold of your heart.

AmazonUK | AmazonUS

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Rosie’s #BookReview Team #RBRT Biographical #historicalfiction The Other Mrs. Samson by Ralph Webster

Today’s team review is from Judith. She blogs here

#RBRT Review Team

Judith has been reading The Other Mrs Samson by Ralph Webster

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I chose The Other Mrs Samson because it covered both historical and memoir genres. It’s a story that stretches through decades and settings; from the middle of the nineteenth century to the time of the First World War, the mid twentieth century and World War Two to the present era, and from the United States, to Germany and France.

The book’s appeal to me was the description of the intriguing, yet so different, life and love stories of two women for one man with so many settings across a great spread of years. I was keen to start reading the book.

But I struggled with it. And I have struggled to review it as well.

There is no doubt whatsoever that the author has carried out extensive research to provide a background to the story: the Jewish community in San Francisco at the turn of the nineteenth to the twentieth century, conditions in WW1, the growth of Nazism and the dreadful effect on the Jewish people.There is much detail about the politics of the time and the impact on the economics of the societies, the suffering caused through the conditions during the great wars.

And we follow the stories of the two women, Hilda and Katie Samson, who, in different decades, both meet and then marry the same man, Dr. Josef Samson. These are recounted through papers that were found by the narrator in a secret compartment in a black lacquer cabinet; the memoirs of Katie, a friend of the narrator.

The novel relates the difference between the two women, their lives and their emotions; their reactions to events. And this is where I had the problem. Let me say that I enjoyed the start of the book; the finding of the papers and, to a much greater extent; Hilda’s story, which was fascinating. But the enjoyment palled slightly when I came to the story of Katie. Where I felt the narrator’s words brought of the character of the first Mrs Samson alive on the page, for me it wasn’t the same with the second. Initially, I was engrossed in Katie’s tragic early life, set against the so-called decadence of the twenties, the economic downfall in America, the insidious evil of the Nazi party in Germany. As I said earlier, the reader learns so much of the conditions throughout the world, but I also felt the all characters became less rounded, almost an after thought, in the telling of their stories. And, I’m afraid, the author lost me; I skipped through many pages ( then went back to read, because I didn’t think I’d given it a fair shot). It’s not something I normally do, and certainly not something I’m proud of, but it felt almost like an historical explanation of what was the world rather that following the characters.

I think my problem with The Second Mrs Samson is that I like character driven stories. And I felt that Ralph Webster missed a chance to develop both the main and some minor characters in his quest to write such a brilliantly detailed historical setting.

But, after all, reviews are always subjective and I would recommend The Second Mrs Samson to readers who enjoy historical novels.

3.5 stars

Book description

Surviving two wars, sharing one husband, searching for answers.

A secret compartment in a black lacquer cabinet left in an attic reveals the secrets of two incredible women: Hilda, born and raised in one of the wealthiest Jewish families in turn-of-the-century San Francisco, and Katie, whose early life in Germany is marked by tragedy and death. Their lives are forever entwined by their love of the same man, the brilliant and compassionate Dr. Josef Samson.

From the earliest, rough-and-tumble days of San Francisco, through the devastation of the Great War in Berlin and the terrors of Vichy France, and then to a new yet uncertain life in New York City, their stories span the most tumultuous events of the twentieth century. In the end, one of these women will complete the life of the other and make a startling discovery about the husband they share.

AmazonUK | AmazonUS

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Rosie’s #BookReview Team #RBRT Biographical #historicalfiction The Other Mrs. Samson by @Ralph_Webster

Today’s team review is from Olga. She blogs here

#RBRT Review Team

Olga has been reading The Other Mrs Samson by Ralph Webster

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The description of the book suggests, this is the story of two women, told by them, although somewhat indirectly. This is one of those books (they are also quite a few movies, mostly adaptations of novels), which follow similar plots, or use a similar “frame” to tell a story: somebody finds a book, diary, collection of letters, etc., sometimes belonging to a parent, another relative, a friend, sometimes to somebody they’ve never met, and then, as if in a long flashback, we get to hear (or see) the story of that other person. Most of these stories tend to include some secret or major revelation towards the end, which casts a new light on the characters and their lives. In this book, a couple have inherited a piece of furniture (a lacquered cabinet) from an elderly woman they met through one of their relatives (they had been friends for decades and met regularly to have lunch and share news), and whom they became friendly with after their relative’s passing. By pure chance, they discover a secret drawer in the cabinet and inside there are (with some extra bits) two diaries/documents narrating the stories of two women who’d been married to the same man at very different moments in time (and also at very different historical periods). What makes the book particularly interesting is that in the acknowledgements’ section, the author talks about the process of development of the book, the help he got translating letters, etc., and also the fact that he changed some names, so this is not a work of fiction in its entirety, but rather a fictionalisation of the lives of two women. This makes sense, especially considering that the author (whose work I hadn’t read before) is well known for his work writing/adapting memoirs and biographies. The note doesn’t clarify how much of the content is fictionalised, but I found the category of biographical historical fiction that the book is classed under more than appropriate.

What I most liked about the book is the historical sweep and the amount of detail about the periods it covers, and also the two main characters (or the two narrators, to be more specific), Hilda and Katie. As Hilda’s narration also includes details about her grandparents and her parents, we get treated to a chronicle of life from the early XIX century in Germany —the immigration of her ancestors to the United States (and San Francisco in particular) from old Europe, a description of her own life as a well-off debutante and a young woman —through to the late XIX and early XX century. We hear about the fires, the earthquake, we read about what travelling was like, and also about Hilda’s visits to Germany and her contact with a distant cousin who would become her husband, Josef. She moves to Germany, totally changing her husband’s life, and acknowledges her difficulties adapting to a new place, to living with somebody else, and also, later, describes how their life is affected by WWI. Hilda can be spoilt and whimsical, but she is determined to have her own life and not to simply become a doctor’s wife. Katie, on the other hand, is much younger than her husband, her social circumstances and education are very different to those of Josef (and Hilda) and they first meet while she is looking after his elderly mother. This takes place much later (in the late 1920s-early 1930s), and we follow her through a somewhat odd courting, then she joins him in France (he is Jewish and leaves Germany soon after Hitler comes into power), and she adapts her life to his, following him in his increasingly desperate attempts to leave Europe. The two narratives are in the first person, and Hilda and Katie have pretty different personalities which clearly come across in their parts of the story. While Hilda is more expressive and outgoing, Katie has seen a lot of suffering from a very young age, prefers quiet pursuits, and is happy to try to fit in with others and avoid confrontation.

This is a book full of little details that play important parts in the story, objects that come to symbolise aspects of the relationship of the two women with their husbands and also illustrate their personalities (while Hilda doesn’t get on with Josef’s mother and insists on standing her ground, Katie adapts to Josef’s mother’s somewhat overbearing personality and becomes a beloved companion of the old woman; Hilda dislikes the piano seat Josef can’t bear to part with but only convinces him to reupholster it, while Katie convinces him to get a two-seater piano bench; Katie’s father gives her a clock that becomes a stand-in for the past and for old memories and times). As we read the story we come to realise that Josef’s life has changed little, and we can’t help but wonder about the story of these women and about the man himself. There is a twist at the end, which helps explain some things, but it leaves and many questions unanswered as it solves.

I am not sure there is anything I dislike of the book. By its own nature and the way the story is narrated, there is a lot of telling, but the stories told are so fascinating that I didn’t mind at all, and other than the occasional German word (which is usually translated or explained in the text), the text is easy to read with no sudden jumps in point of view or chronology, apart from the framing story. Katie’s account will, perhaps, be more familiar to readers, as there has been an upsurge in stories about WWII, and I know some readers didn’t feel that part quite matched the intensity of the other, but I was intrigued by the character, her relationship with her husband and her attitude towards life (although I don’t have much, if anything, in common with her). Of course, readers who dislike telling or like elaborate plots that move the story along without a pause might feel frustrated by the story and the style of the narrative, but I liked the way the two stories fitted together and felt the technique used to tell the story is told is well suited to the material.

I recommend this book to readers of historical fiction, especially those interested in XIX and XX century German and American History, to people who enjoy biographies and/or fictionalised biographies, and particularly to those who like to read about women’s lives in the past. If you’re looking for a page-turner full of sensational adventures and larger-than-life characters, on the other hand, this is not the book for you. I look forward to discovering more of the author’s book and will follow his career with interest.

Book description

Surviving two wars, sharing one husband, searching for answers.

A secret compartment in a black lacquer cabinet left in an attic reveals the secrets of two incredible women: Hilda, born and raised in one of the wealthiest Jewish families in turn-of-the-century San Francisco, and Katie, whose early life in Germany is marked by tragedy and death. Their lives are forever entwined by their love of the same man, the brilliant and compassionate Dr. Josef Samson.

From the earliest, rough-and-tumble days of San Francisco, through the devastation of the Great War in Berlin and the terrors of Vichy France, and then to a new yet uncertain life in New York City, their stories span the most tumultuous events of the twentieth century. In the end, one of these women will complete the life of the other and make a startling discovery about the husband they share.

AmazonUK | AmazonUS

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