Thursday, May 04, 2017

Book Gush: Kitty Peck and the Daughter of Sorrow by Kate Griffin

“I signed my soul away for the Paradise that day.”

The desperate tragedy that tugged us toward the end of the previous installment in Kitty’s tale seeps into her world from the outset and drags us into the mire of an unbearably smoggy summer, into the depths of opium dens and across the stage where lime-lights and greasepaint adorn a world Kitty knows so well.  A world that has, to Kitty, become little more than a den of iniquity and brutality.

The amazing thing about so many series is  you become so accustomed to their  world  a new installment makes your heart race.   Also, as you adapt to the world and the characters, you forget amazing fictional friendships.  In the Kitty Peck series ( gushing here ), I have discovered that my heart thrums a little the first time I see the word fannella: Lucca’s pet name for Kitty!   Revisiting these characters and spending time in Kitty’s London laced with visceral and grotesque undercurrents and weighted under the sticky summer sun was a delight. The best books transplant you so deeply that when you look up from their pages you aren’t sure where you are.  Kitty does that—gets a hook into you and pulls tightly.

   Kitty Peck and the Daughter of Sorrow is the third installment in a series I wish would go on- and -on- forever—and- ever -amen and it drops right into the murky lair of an opium-tinged underworld.  Now, Lady Linnet, Kitty has risen from  music hall seamstress to  a position of dark power and mars on her conscience stick to her with the ascent.    

As always, there are secrets entwining her brother, Joey ( who was approached with great detail in Kitty Peck and The Child of Ill Fortune) and Lady Ginger, a scary Havishamesque maternal figure who would be at home in the Lannister court in Game of Thrones, all surrounding Kitty’s coming of age story as the curtain is peeled back and her shocking past revealed.

To speak to the intricate plot details would do this review a disservice. You really need to read the books in order to appreciate the complicated web Griffin tightens around Kitty and her allies. In this book,  Kitty’s to-die-for connection with Lucca and her budding feelings for journalist Sam Collins are the bright lights in Kitty’s darkening world and a delight to the reader.  While Lucca spends a lot of time off-page ( miss you, Lucca!), Kitty and Sam’s conversations crackle and pop with chemistry.  Their words buzz.     Another ally is Peggy, expecting a child while navigating a new world without Dan, whose death Kitty knows more than she should about.

Kitty has always been a complex character who colours between the worlds of dark and light.  Resourceful and intelligent beyond her years, she uses exceptional agency to work the world around her as befits her desire to find her brother and, in this case, to reconcile the deeds of her conscience as she stepped into her new role with the Kitty she most wants to be.    What I found especially memorable about this installment, is how much of a coming-of-age story it is.   Kitty grows and develops amidst a festering underworld of criminal activity, violence and disgrace--- and this is most apparent in the slight changes in her alluring narrative.  This is a more confident Kitty, a hardened Kitty --though never bereft of the spirit and light that pulls us onward as we fall into her voice.   Griffin shows her writing chops by allowing us to see the cracks in the veneer of Kitty’s confidence, while never allowing her self-awareness and strength to falter.  

I highly recommend starting this series from the beginning and I highly recommend savouring the tang of its unique voice.  Describing Griffin to people, I sometimes think of Sarah Waters meets Catherine Webb for lunch with Michael Faber after a pre-drink with George RR Martin.

As in the previous two installments,  Griffin has created a tangible world thanks to Kitty’s pitch-perfect narration, expert research and descriptions that buzz off the page. While the plot is intricate, terrifying and undercut with suspense, it is a character-driven tale populated with colourfully dimensional characters.   

There is also ( tearing up here) an amazing moment of sacrifice between the two men in Kitty’s life, Lucca and Sam.  If you didn’t already love these characters to the point of distraction, The Daughter of Sorrow will pull you over the edge.

( and the END omg the END! I die, Horatio! The end was just this lovely little jolt of adrenaline that got Kitty's heart racing so madly I swear I appropriated some of its beat.  The author's note informs us that Kitty's world will be brighter and I sure hope so because I NEED these characters in my life and I need more of this fresh, exuberant, wrap-around-you-so-tightly narrative voice)

A few lines:
Of Sam: “There were grooves at the corners of his mouth worn  there by smiling, not temper.”

“Colour was a luxury here.”

“I could smell disappointment rolling off him, in the way you get a tang of old liquor off a lusher.”

“I believe that death, when it comes, will be a kindness.”

“When my dress stuck so close to my flesh, it was like the cotton had been coated in honey.”

With allllll the thanks in the world to Faber and to Kate Griffin for the opportunity to review 

Wednesday, May 03, 2017

Book Gush: High as the Heavens by Kate Breslin

Warning: there will be  ALL THE CAPS!
Image result for high as the heavens breslin

But first, plotty stuff:

Evelyn Marche is a nurse currently working for the resistance while playing nice with the Germans in war-occupied Brussels.   Her life is a barrage of secrets propelled by a haunted past. While she works at her aunt and uncle’s cafĂ© and saves lives from both sides of the war, you know that she is just going through the motions.  She’ll stay alive for her mother, for the Resistance that needs her, and to retrieve her siblings, lost in France.

But underneath Eve’s complicated and complex world of intrigue and her highly skilled spy work,  she goes through the motions, rendered an automaton by the death of her pilot  husband years before.

A tragic sequence of circumstances thereafter pricks at her constantly and she is but a shell of a person with really nothing to lose after life and love were ripped from her.  

When detoured from a night time assignment by a plane crash in Brussels Park, Eve never expects she will find herself face-to-face with her supposedly dead husband, Simon Forrester. Now, caught playing a dangerous game of roulette, she’ll have to risk his trust to save his life ---even as she keeps the darkest secrets from the person who should know and love her best.

GUYSSSSSSS what we have here is one of Rachel’s FAVOURITE ROMANTIC TROPES: something I like to call The Pimpernel.   For those of you familiar with Orczy’s classic ( and if you aren’t what have you been doing with your life?), it features a married couple who due to secrets and mistrust are torn apart even as they STILL LOVE EACH OTHER DEEPLY FOREVER AND EVER and WANT TO SHARE KISSES AND TOUCHES AND EACH OTHER FOREVER AND I CANNOT EVEN DEAL.

Here, like Sir Percy, Simon is rattled by the fact that his beloved and rediscovered wife may indeed be a traitor while Eve is confronted with the treacherous fact that the return of her husband means finally spilling a secret that has ruined her at core.


WHAT WE HAVE HERE IS A FAILURE TO COMMUNICATE and oh is it ever achingly, seethingly , bone-tinglingly delicious as time is meted out in slow, languorous romantic breaths and you are all: OH PLEASE END THIS INSANITY AND KISS FOREVER

It’s really lovely and done so well: especially when embroidered with sweet tantalizing scenes from the past.  We see Simon and Eve fall in love and must reconcile the sepia-tinted light of these remembrances with the hardened, challenged and war-torn people they are at present.

OF COURSE THEY STILL LOVE EACH OTHER and would die for each other a thousand times over but THEY CANNOT TELL EACH OTHER without risking their respective causes and Eve is near rendered mute by a secret that clogs her throat and catches her breath and she wonders if Simon could ever truly love the woman who, out of desperation, was forced to make a lethal choice.

And what is AWESOME about this, reader friends, is that the longer the game goes on, the more confusingly intricate the web becomes.  You think that everything is smoothed out like a crease in your favourite pencil skirt, but NO, she throws another wrench into things because she takes DELIGHT IN TORTURING US.  To add to the torture, she has a lovely and poetic way of painting a physical connection between our two leads that is whisper light and passionate and alluring—while reminding us that their true connection is strung together with a deeper knot.  The more we see Simon and Eve in their respective roles for the cause, the more we are met with the commonalities that surge between them and can truly buy into their connection and story on an inherently intelligent level.

Breslin also does well at painting both sides of the conflict in sympathetic light.   Eve’s ability to understand the plight of the German enemies she waits on ( and whose lives she saves as a skilled nurse) even as she aids the allied effort are human and as rooted in an impossible situation as she is.  Breslin also (of course, its Breslin) impresses an impressive understanding of culture and verisimilitude as is trademark in her historical fiction.

But, mostly, and above all, she makes you love. She makes you love the ginger-haired Scotch pilot with the calloused hands and roguish burr and his Eve--- a stroke of genius in the name--- the woman who could be his saviour or the downfall of his life and his heart…. Again.

A series of games, clues, breathless escapes, creaks and snippets of war on the European front, you will have to navigate a world of double-agents and betrayals.  But rest safe in the hands of Breslin’s competent pen, her fully realized characters and … of course… an “OMG YOU DIDN’T THIS IS THE BEST EVER PIMPERNEL ROMANCE AND I CANNOT EVEN”

I can’t even, guys.   And for the last time she did this to me and ruined my life with the most agonizing kind of word bliss, read NOT BY SIGHT 

Thanks to Bethany House and Netgalley and Kate Breslin for ruining me for the real world 

Tuesday, May 02, 2017

book gush: After Anatevka by Alexandra Silber

Memory, she thought, is a sacred place. It is the place where the past is gathered—an inner synagogue where we make meaning of our existence.

 You know those books that just make you giddy because they are soooooo good and the author is SOOOO smart and you are just happy you live in a world where words can be outfitted to paint a splendid, moving, remarkable heart-stopping portrait of love and life and hope and ache and power?

You know those books that just tug you into them and hold you tightly so that you look up and are surprised that you are on the subway and not sitting across from characters whose tongues drip simple wisdom and who are salt and light and everything that is flawed and flourishing about humanity?

Image result for after anatevkaAfter Anatevka  is that book.  It is a globe, a sphere, one of those snowglobes you shake peering into the tiny world crafted perfectly and shrouded in flickering snowflakes. It is a capture of a moment of exquisite heartbreak against a brutal yet achingly lovely canvas that can never quell that which you cannot tether from a human: faith, hope, the best kind of once-in-a-million love.

After Anatevka answers a question I revisit every time I see a production of Fiddler on the Roof: what happens after Hodel leaves Anatevka with the news that her beloved, the radically smart Perchik, has been transported to a Siberian prison?

The door on her story is closed at the train station as she explains why she will go far from the home she loves to follow Perchik while her father Tevye, is confronted with one more way that the traditions of his past and his religion are fraying at the seams.

I thought this was a fascinating premise for a novel and I couldn’t wait to get my hands on a copy.   What I wasn’t expecting, however, was to encounter one of the smartest historical novels I have read in an age nor one of the most lyrical debut voices of my reading life.

After Anatevka, is not a story so much as an experience and in lesser hands it could never embroider the pathos and light of a historical narrative tradition to create  a melancholy and everlasting tapestry of hope.

Yes, hope.  For all the darkness undercutting Hodel’s imprisonments and Perchik’s suffering in the Siberian salt mines, the power of hope and the commitment to life ( hear L’Chaim! in your head) is the true theme of the story.  Love knows no barriers. Love is a spiritual connection .Love has agency beyond borders and boundaries, deceit and despair.

The bookrepresents Hodel and Perchik’s present:  first Hodel incarcerated as a single woman in pursuit of her fiance in a kind of holding cell ( held in time and place at the mercy of waiting ) and then reunited with Perchik in Nerchinsk  with respective flashbacks subverting every trope of romantic ballads with startling freshness.  It is in flashbacks that Silber is at her most ingenious: colouring in the world of Hodel and her sisters and infusing a crash course in cultural norms in early 20th Century Russia.   A treatise on the beauty of domesticity and the advocacy for women who think beyond the realm of their small town and customs are balanced to justify all female experience. The feminine sphere – either perfecting the baking of the challah or pursuing a man outside of your faith ( Chava) are seen as equal experiences and all worthy.    In the latter half of the book, Perchik’s story is embroidered—and taken beyond the seams of anything grounded in its many nods to its theatrical counterpart and into Silber’s own imagination.   While Hodel’s limitations are dictated by the rubrics of a woman’s place in Anatevka, so Perchik finds poverty and mental abuse by his uncle the chains that would keep him from pursuing life.  And all while peeling back the curtain of their formative years, Silber forms the perfect pair--- allowing the reader to fully understand why Hodel would leave the safety of her home for a life of destitution and darkness and why Perchik pursued a forbidden dance with the dairyman’s daughter in a small village. 

Their connection is palpable and bursts off the page.   Even while Hodel is drawn to the past: remembering, fingering through letters late delivered from her sister Tzeitel, we see that there was no other choice but for her to chase one half of her soul—Perchik---no matter the consequences.

A large portion of the book follows the (expertly researched ) daily life of internment at a labour camp.  Into this world, Silber broadens the circle with fluid, dimensional characters – both overseers and fellow prisoners—that add colour, human and life to its dreary toil.

I just cannot say enough about this book. It is a world.   Silber’s instincts are pitch perfect, drawing you in and tethering you to a tale remarkable in its praise of the fortitude of spirit and intelligence.  Modern parallels ( the best aspect of historical fiction), encourage the reader to ponder how far they would go to speak and be heard.   Faith is at the crux of Hodel and Perchik’s love, even as they find it beyond the metrics of the traditions that Tevye saw slipping from his family in the source musical.   And all unfurling in an expertly woven tale full of self-awareness and beautiful language.

“The pivot?” Hodel murmured.
“The fulcrum. The turning point. In every story there is always a moment when the anchoring thread of the tapestry unravels.  I don’t know that I have ever been inside that story until now.”

“There is a kind of transaction that occurs between a person and a place: you give the place something and it gives you something in return.  In years to come, Hodel would know for certain not only what Nerchinsk had taken, but what it had given her as well.”

For theatre buffs, this book will excite you – yes, it does have several lovely nods to the musical so beloved.  But for readers with no previous attachment to the story, rejoice! We have found an earth-shatteringly beautiful new voice in historical fiction—resplendent with passion and poetry.  A perfect voice for excavating the little moments in humanity against the bleak brutality of Nerchinsk.

And then, the descriptions (music!) “ Hodel admired how the broadness of his shoulders curved above the volume as if he were cradling the very thoughts upon the pages with his entire body.”

“How exquisitely Nerchinsk sulks upon its gray and sorrowful bluff. How shafts of sun burst through the thick, low blanket of cloud above the village like stabs of hope from heaven.”  (ARE YOU KIDDING ME???? Dies of love)

And the feminism “Hodel saw it through her sister’s eyes: women were created to be in every way partners, not mindless slaves or brainless doormats, but helpers, collaborators, equals. And that was a thing of great beauty”

And the simple wisdom “For our greatest rewards, Hodel, sometimes we must endure.”
“Perchik could no longer stand being believed in—belief was heavy; it was burning sunlight in his eyes.”

And this : “ I wanted a woman who was somewhat like the moon. I would miss her when she was away and appreciate her when she returned, but I did not want her around all the time!”

And this: “In two little words, all of Hodel’s life choices were suddenly obliterated by Tzeitel’s sense of domestic superiority” ( snortle. There are a lot of lovely sibling moments in this!)

I had a full blown love affair with this book.  It exceeded expectations I didn't know I had and then some.   

Pre-order two copies at least: one for you and one for the person you will immediately ache to share it with.  This story is a love letter and love letters are never meant to experienced in solitude. 

With thanks to Pegasus and Netgalley for the review copy.