Calling Me Home – Julie Kiebler

15793184Title: Calling Me Home

Author: Julie Kiebler

Published: 2013

Genre: Historical Fiction, Romance, Drama

Age group: Adult

My rating:

Summary:  

A soaring debut interweaving the story of a heartbreaking, forbidden love in 1930s Kentucky with an unlikely modern-day friendship.
Eighty-nine-year-old Isabelle McAllister has a favor to ask her hairdresser Dorrie Curtis. It’s a big one. Isabelle wants Dorrie, a black single mom in her thirties, to drop everything to drive her from her home in Arlington, Texas, to a funeral in Cincinnati. With no clear explanation why. Tomorrow.
Dorrie, fleeing problems of her own and curious whether she can unlock the secrets of Isabelle’s guarded past, scarcely hesitates before agreeing, not knowing it will be a journey that changes both their lives.
Over the years, Dorrie and Isabelle have developed more than just a business relationship. They are friends. But Dorrie, fretting over the new man in her life and her teenage son’s irresponsible choices, still wonders why Isabelle chose her.
Isabelle confesses that, as a willful teen in 1930s Kentucky, she fell deeply in love with Robert Prewitt, a would-be doctor and the black son of her family’s housekeeper—in a town where blacks weren’t allowed after dark. The tale of their forbidden relationship and its tragic consequences makes it clear Dorrie and Isabelle are headed for a gathering of the utmost importance and that the history of Isabelle’s first and greatest love just might help Dorrie find her own way.

My review:

The first reason I picked this book in the first place was it’s time setting. I’m generally interested in what was happening in the society during the World Wars I and II. Naturally, when I choose to read a historical fiction, I expect a more or less truthful interpretation of the events. I like when authors give some details to the general course of life. Of course, I have a necessary amount of knowledge about what was going on in this or that time period. But what I didn’t learn at school was how those historical events influenced ordinary people and their lives. I like that a historical fiction, even though it’s main theme is not to show all the hardships, still gives the time setting a proper introduction and explaining. Not all books, though, manage this for me.

That is the thing with ‘Calling Me Home’. Yes, it deals with a pretty tough subject of racism, and for all its cruelty, the book did a great job telling about it. Still, though, it didn’t make me believe. Like when you read ‘Gone With the Wind’, where Margaret Mitchell builds such a vivid picture of what it was like to be a person with either white or dark skin at that time, you can’t help being overwhelmed and actually feel immersed into that time. You just sympathize with the characters and you care about them and you wish for the best.

I didn’t feel emotionally connected with what was happening in ‘Calling Me Home’. Like I know, it’s a sad story. A white girl and a black boy fall in love at a very severe time, when, even though the Civil War happened many years ago, nothing has changed much for black people. It was very dangerous and rare for the main characters to have this relationship, but to me it felt like the author sacrificed a more vivid portrayal of this situation for parents vs. kids problem, where the kids are determined to do what they want, and the parents’ naturally try to stop them to maintain the family’s reputation.

Isabelle is clearly the starter of all this mess. Robert has been working for her family for a long time, but Isabelle only notices him when he saves her from being raped. Then she becomes obsessed, seriously. Like it is all about Robert now. She stalks him and follows him everywhere, and Robert just gives in one day after trying to make her see reason for several times. Then the two get married secretly and have one night together, before Isabelle’s parents separate them once and for all.

Isabelle and Robert are such one-dimensional characters, there is literally zero information about what they actually are as persons. All there is to know about them, their story and goals are mentioned briefly in the beginning, like some kind of resume, and since then the plot was all about the doomed love story without any character growth.

I didn’t have anything against Robert, while I was reading the story, but young Isabelle simply annoyed me to no end. It was like her obsession with Robert made her completely unreasonable, desperate and selfish. No matter how dangerous this whole marriage could be for Robert and his family, she seemed to not care much. It was all about how much she loved Robert and how she wanted to be with him. Ugh… Ironically, though, she seemed to forget about her love twice in the story, each time after having had sex with Robert. I just couldn’t get over her thinking process. First she says how important Robert is for her, than she has sex with him, they are separated and she’s like ‘Okay! Everything is against us, so we’ll never be together again. I’m not going to try and reach him, I’m just glad we had sex!’ Come on! You sad that you were ready to do anything for your love and now you are all of a sudden became realistic? Don’t give up now! That’s the thing about romance books, that makes us readers swoon over them and love them, because the characters in it are ready to do whatever it takes. Isabelle, though, makes me really suspicious of this supposed love.

So, I got a bit long here, but that was my biggest concern about the book, and I actually would have given it 2 stars if it wasn’t for Dorrie. Dorrie is older Isabelle’s hairdresser, she is black and she has a whole baggage of problems, It’s her kids, her job and all the unfaithful and unreliable men in her life. That is the story I was completely engrossed in. I loved how realistic Dorrie’s life was depicted, I admired her decisions and how strong of a woman she was. I found that I was really struggling through Isabelle’s chapters and was really into Dorrie’s story.

Overall, the book, which was definitely planned as a tear-jerker, failed to get any tears from me. But, surprisingly, I managed to get through with it, and mostly it’s for Dorrie. So, 3 stars here, can’t give more. I was so excited about this book, and now I feel really disappointed.

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Little Women – Louisa May Alcott

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Title: Little Women

Series: Little Women, #01

Author: Louisa May Alcott

First Published: 1868

Genre: Historical, Classics, Romance

Age group: Young Adult

My rating: ★ ★ ★ ★

I’ve been really into reading classics recently, and ‘Little Women’ was one of those books that I really wanted to read for quite sometime. As I live in Russia, our school reading lists are way different from those in other countries. Naturally, they are filled with our own classics, and there are very few foreign authors that Russian students get to know while at school.

As I remember myself as a teenager, I really liked reading. But comparing to this whole approach to information Internet gives us nowadays, which I didn’t have during my school years, it’s no wonder that I was very limited in my reading choices. And that’s really sad, because there are books, that I’ve already read as an adult, that I loved so much and that I wished I would have read way earlier. But I didn’t know about their existence, because, well, I may have heard about some popular European books, but Classic American Literature was practically out of limits for me. ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’, for example, falls into this category, just like ‘Little Women’.

The way I learned about this book is really funny. It did happen when I was in high school, and I was watching this amazing TV show ‘Friends’, the episode where Joe and Rachel read each other’s favorite books. Rachel gets to read the book that scares the living hell out of Joe, ‘The Shining’ (I’ve read it recently, and it’s AWESOME!). And Joe is reading ‘Little Women’. I was so impressed by the reactions this book gets out of him, he loves it and he connects with the characters and he is really upset with the way the plot is developing.

I can say that I was really intrigued by this book, and I made a mental note to myself to get to read it sometime. Then there came the time, when I finished school, and I was busy at the University, then I felt like I was really tired of all those classics and wanted to read something new and fresh.

But there is always this thing about Classics, no matter how exciting and entertaining newly released books may be, very few of them can actually stand the test of time and appeal to any reader of any age, no matter when they read them. Classic books became classic for a reason. They either tell about some important historical period or they just tell a story of ordinary people dealing with some life dramas. Classic books are the first books that come to our minds when we make our lists of all time favorite books, because each of them has taught us something about life’s values.

‘Little Women’ tells about a year in the life of four sisters – Meg, Joe, Beth and Amy. The girls live with their mother while their dad is away serving in the war. Their life is not easy as they have to struggle to make ends meet, with two older girls, Meg and Joe, having abandoned school and gone to work. The house they live in is not very fancy, since the family has been having money problems for a long time, and at the same time there’s constant worry that they might never see their father again.

Each chapter of the book shows different incidents in the girls’ lives. The sisters are all so different in characters and states of mind and each of them has her own dreams. At some time one of the sisters would act out of her frustration with the current state of things, and the outcome may be very sad. But as the girls get to learn along the way, life is all about getting to know one’s worst personal qualities and try to not let them take hold of you.

There are some very light and funny chapters in the book, but there are also a lot of them, which show how tough is the life the girls actually have to live. So, while every sister is not portrayed as an ideal, they all have their own good and bad characteristics, you can’t really not be impressed with their strong spirit and the way they always stand for each other.

I wish I’d read the book when I was a teenager, too, just like the sisters. Because, well, then I could have connected more with them. And also this book has a great educative aspect in it. In a very light and understandable way, this books sets right from wrong and explains what a good person actually is like. Meg, Joe, Beth and Amy are far from perfect, but their are really trying to be better, which is really admirable and can be very impressive for a younger reader.

‘Little Women’ is the first book in the series, and the continuation ‘Good Wives’ tells about the girls’ lives as adults. I’m really excited about it, because I got very much attached to the 4 sisters and also I really loved Louisa May Alcott’s narration. I hope I’ll also find the time to watch the movie adaptation of the book.

Edenbrooke by Julianne Donaldson

13569338Title: Edenbrooke

Author: Julianne Donaldson

Published: March 27th 2012, Shadow Mountain

Genre: Romance, Historical Fiction

Age group: Adult

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★

Edenbrooke

Summary:

Marianne Daventry will do anything to escape the boredom of Bath and the amorous attentions of an unwanted suitor. So when an invitation arrives from her twin sister, Cecily, to join her at a sprawling country estate, she jumps at the chance. Thinking she’ll be able to relax and enjoy her beloved English countryside while her sister snags the handsome heir of Edenbrooke, Marianne finds that even the best laid plans can go awry.

From a terrifying run-in with a highwayman to a seemingly harmless flirtation, Marianne finds herself embroiled in an unexpected adventure filled with enough romance and intrigue to keep her mind racing. Will she be able to rein in her traitorous heart, or will a mysterious stranger sweep her off her feet? Fate had something other than a relaxing summer in mind when it sent Marianne to Edenbrooke.

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I am a big fan of Jane Austen’s books, and I also love romance stories. So when I read the description of  ‘Edenbrooke’, I became immediately excited about it. British Regency is the time period I find really fascinating. It was very aristocratic and elegant. I really admire the way people were at that time, their society and all the social rules of behavior they followed. I think these people were so noble and beautiful. Maybe it was not quite like that, but that’s pretty much the image that’s been created in my mind by Jane Austen. Besides, there’s something very attractive about that time, when there were no electronic or technical devices, and people actually met in person and talked to each other instead of phone calls or text-messages.

The main heroine Marianne lives with her grandmother after her mother’s death separated her from her family. Her sister Cecily is placed in London, while their father is grieving alone in France.  Being twins, Marianne and Cecily are not exactly alike. Cecily is more outgoing and coquettish, she knows how to make an impression and to charm any man she wants. And Marianne is very down to earth and sincere. She’s doesn’t know how to flirt with men or how to behave around glamorous people. She’s happier when she’s free and alone with nature, riding her horse.

But Marianne’s grandmother is worried that, unlike Cecily, she may not be able to make a good match. So Marianne is sent to Edenbrooke following her sister’s invitation to stay with the family she lives with. The journey to Edenbrooke turns out very dangerous, as Marianne’s carriage gets attacked by a highwayman. She then is saved by a young man named Philip, who refused to tell anything more about his persona. But, imagine Marianne’s surprise when she finds out that he is actually the owner of Edenbrooke.

But, nevertheless, the attraction between Marianne and Philip keeps growing only to later break all Marianne’s hopes when she learns that her sister also has the eyes for Philip. And as far as Marianne’s concerned, she can’t remember a time when she could win over Cecily.

In general, I liked the story. It was that type of an easy-reading chick-lit pure romance book, that I just couldn’t not get affected by. It was very predictable, with Marianne being this typical damsel in distress and Philip the knight in shiny armors. I liked the progression of their love story. They started as friends, with Philip showing Edenbrooke to Marianne and letting her ride one of his favorite horses. But then the tension between them gets stronger and stronger and I found myself simply unable to stop reading, anxious for Marianne and Phillip to finally get together.

While the main reason why I was interested in this book in the first place was the similarities I believed it had with Jane Austen’s works. But I found out that aside from being set in Regency era and telling a love story, there are no more similarities. I loved how noble and just right were Jane Austen’s characters, but in Edenbrooke they are way more free in their behavior, the book really highlights all the people’s faults. In Edenbrooke the characters are more frivolous, while Jane Austen is way more strict about it, and I believe that this added a special charm to her books. Besides, I cringed at some really rude and harsh language Julianne Donaldson used in the book. This can be seen in the way Marianne’s grandmother talked to her, she really humiliated Marianne.

I can’t say  that I liked Marianne a lot, for she was so awkward, but I generally sympathized with her as she was so naive and young. Philip was a real gentleman, I was so enamored by him and his attempts to woo Marianne. In the end they became such a cute couple.

Maybe if I didn’t have such high expectations about Edenbrooke, I would have given it five stars. But I give four, because while it was quite a nice read, there wasn’t anything new or unique about it, it was very predictable. I guessed the plot from the very beginning. Also the Regency era this book tried to depict as its main setting didn’t really translate that great, sometimes it felt like it’s the present time judging by the way the characters acted. But I’ll admit I absolutely loved the romance part and that’s what really is the main attraction of this book.

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Favorite character: Philip

Favorite quote: “I hope you do not let anyone else’s expectations direct the course of your life.”

The Girl You Left Behind by Jojo Moyes

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Title: The Girl You Left Behind

Author: Jojo Moyes

First published: September 26th 2012, Penguin

Edition: ebook, 430 pages

Genre: Historical Fiction, Romance

Age group: Adult

Rating:  ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

The Girl You Left Behind

In 1916 the small French town of St. Péronne is occupied by German soldiers. One of its citizens, young Sophie Lefevre hasn’t seen her husband Edouard since his leaving for the Front 2 years ago. Sophie and her sister Helene’s life now is centered around their family’s hotel, where they run a bar for the neighbors left, mostly women, elderly people and kids.

The only thing Sophie has left of her husband, which is very dear to both of them, is Sophie’s portrait, painted by Edouard himself, an underrated artist that he is. The painting shows Sophie in bright and vivid colors, both being a true copy of her image, yet giving her some intriguing light, her gaze magnetic and penetrating.

Sophie doesn’t want to hide the portrait from the people coming to the bar, she feels it giving her strength to go on, reminds her of the girl she used to be when she and Edouard just married. She is not the only one to admire it, though. The local German Kommandant, who enforces her to cook dinner for him and his people every evening, can’t seem to be able to pry his eyes away from it.

Only his admiration doesn’t stop with the painting as he favors Sophie too, making her the main theme of the town’s talk.

Like many women in her town, Sophie hasn’t had a word from her husband for months, but the way the Kommandant acts with her, makes her believe he is a man of his word, the one who will help the artist, whose work he loves so much, reunite with his wife.

The risk that Sophie takes, making a deal with the Kommandant, not only ruins her reputation and love of her family for her, but is believed to cost her her life.

In London of 2006 Liv Halston has been coping with the death of her husband for 4 years. The great architecture that he was, he has left a lot of his works as a reminder of him, one of them being the highly innovative Glass House Liv still lives in. But the thing she treasures the most is the gift David bought her during their honeymoon in Spain. The portrait of The Girl You Left Behind, hung on the wall of her bedroom, is both a reminder of happier times and the source of strength for Liv to go on.

Having to struggle both emotionally and financially, Liv is shocked when she learned that the man, with whom she might have wanted to move on from David, actually works for the organization that traces and returns works of art to their owners. And the claim is that The Girl You Left Behind was actually stolen during World War I from the artist’s family.

Liv finds herself unable to simply pass the portrait, it’s the only thing left from her husband that helped her to survive, besides she feels a strange emotional connection to the girl in the painting, Liv’s mission is now not only to prove her legal ownership of the work of art, but also to find out what has become of the girl.

The Girl You Left Behind is the second book by Jojo Moyes that I’ve read, the first one being Me Before You. And what I’ve learned about her works is that Moyes is not the type of author to write about superficial and basically unimportant things. Quite the contrary, she deals with serious and sometimes controversial themes, making gripping stories of them, ones that make you think and emotionally connect to.

The Girl You Left Behind, being a historical fiction on the forefront, picturing the hardships of the War, people’s suffers and deaths, is also a moving story about survival, love and loyalty. It’s not about some ideal people, those to take life as it is. It’s about two women, who lived in absolutely different settings and times, yet those to never give up, those to take risks and fight till the end, even if deep in their hearts they don’t believe in the possible happy ending.

The story of Sophie strikes with its authenticity. The part of the story is written in a form of Sophie’s diary where she tells about her life in an occupied town, the people she is surrounded with, her family’s struggle to survive in constant hunger. But mostly she writes about her husband. She misses him a lot and is afraid to never see him again.

The thing she does hoping to save Edouard, is probably very naive and risky, but I couldn’t find it in me to believe she deserved all the sufferings she had to deal with later. Yes, she did the unthinkable, and she believed the word of an enemy, but throughout the whole story I hoped that everything would turn out good for her, that she would find her happily-ever-after. Well, though it’s not much learned about her fate in the end, I was delighted that she survived and was reunited with her love.

Liv’s story is not that tragic as Sophie’s, though in the beginning it’s not happy either. In a way, I found these to heroines to have something in common. They both are proud, straightforward and determined. If Sophie’s name was tarnished back in 1916, that even her family couldn’t do much about it, I’m glad that even many years later Liv found out that at least it was not for nothing.

Liv’s story is more of the legal case, of her fighting with Edouard Lefevre’s descendants (who apparently don’t care much about the painting itself but its price), but she, too, finds her happy ending.

The way the story kept turning from 1916 to the present day, giving bit by bit of both Sophie’s and Liv’s stories, made it an anxious and impressive read for me. I love Jojo Moyes writing, the unique atmosphere she creates in her stories, you feel being totally transferred into their worlds. And though the year has just started I’m already sure that The Girl You Left Behind will be one of my most favorite books in 2013.