Where the Light Enters by Sara Donati – Blog Tour

Obstetrician Dr Sophie Savard returns home to the achingly familiar rhythms of Manhattan in the early spring of 1884 to rebuild her life after the death of her husband. With the help of Dr Anna Savard, her dearest friend, cousin, and fellow physician, she plans to continue her work aiding the disadvantaged women society would rather forget.

As Sophie sets out to construct a new life for herself, Anna’s husband, Detective Sergeant Jack Mezzanotte calls on them both to consult on two new cases: the wife of a prominent banker has disappeared into thin air, and the corpse of a young woman is found with baffling wounds that suggest a killer is on the loose.

In New York it seems that the advancement of women has brought out the worst in some men. And soon Sophie and Anna are drawn into a dangerous game of cat and mouse . . .

A well written historical fiction novel and a great sequel to the first book: The Gilded Hour.  At first I was skeptical on whether I would have the time to read this in time for the blog tour but the mystery and the character dynamic between Sophie and Anna are quite impressive. I like how in the time this book is written, both characters are quite smart and strong. I also enjoyed the blend of historical and crime however the plot twists and the depth of the plot really caught my attention. The historical aspect of this book really took me back in time and it was a nice change of pace from what I normally read.

Special thanks to Penguin Random House Australia for sending me a copy of this book for review and for having me on board for the blog tour.

Don’t forget to keep an eye out for the first book – this series is definitely worth investing in:

Annie

Gods of Jade and Shadow by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

“The imagination of mortals shaped the gods, carving their faces and their myriad forms, just as the water molds the stones in its path, wearing them down through the centuries…”

The Mayan god of death sends a young woman on a harrowing, life-changing journey in this dark, one-of-a-kind fairy tale inspired by Mexican folklore.

The Jazz Age is in full swing, but Casiopea Tun is too busy cleaning the floors of her wealthy grandfather’s house to listen to any fast tunes. Nevertheless, she dreams of a life far from her dusty small town in southern Mexico. A life she can call her own. Yet this new life seems as distant as the stars, until the day she finds a curious wooden box in her grandfather’s room. She opens it—and accidentally frees the spirit of the Mayan god of death, who requests her help in recovering his throne from his treacherous brother. Failure will mean Casiopea’s demise, but success could make her dreams come true. In the company of the strangely alluring god and armed with her wits, Casiopea begins an adventure that will take her on a cross-country odyssey from the jungles of Yucatán to the bright lights of Mexico City—and deep into the darkness of the Mayan underworld

“There is a bit of the devil in every man, if he may act the part of the saint…”

Having read about this on a blog as an anticipated upcoming release, I wasted no time in getting myself a copy then dropping everything to read it. I am very happy I did this. I found this to be such an intriguing book, a page turner, a story that I was able to immerse myself in about a culture and legend that is often forgotten in the world. Drawing on Mayan mythology and Mexican folk-lore, this was very interesting. Casiopea is our main character and at a time of 1927, she is often noted as outspoken and disobedient when really she is just head strong and knows when to set boundaries. As she unleashes something so unexpected from her Grandfather’s chest, her life changes as she is suddenly affiliated with a god. Her cousin Martin, at first I hated him – but I came to understand his behaviour as the story progressed and found that his character and attitude toward his female cousin was indicative of that time.

Although this was a very intriguing story, I found at times parts of it did drag on, particularly the first 20 pages but if you stick with it, you will find it really is worth your time reading it. I highly recommend this book to those whom, like me, enjoy fantasy fiction with a cultural and mythology infusion. Mayan mythology and Mexican folk-lore is something I have never read before and I was thoroughly impressed.

-Annie

War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy

In Russia’s struggle with Napoleon, Tolstoy saw a tragedy that involved all mankind. Greater than a historical chronicle, War and Peace is an affirmation of life itself, `a complete picture’, as a contemporary reviewer put it, `of everything in which people find their happiness and greatness, their grief and humiliation’. Tolstoy gave his personal approval to this translation, published here in a new single volume edition, which includes an introduction by Henry Gifford, and Tolstoy’s important essay `Some Words about War and Peace’

“…man’s greatest happiness lies in struggling to achieve them [truth and goodness]. We must live, love and believe.” – Tolstoy

This novel has taken up four and half months to finish reading. It’s hard to write a short review for such a long book but I must say that I’m glad I read it.

My book has tags all throughout the book because there were so many moments where the writing resonated with me. This book may appear to be about the Napoleonic War in Russia, but it is actually more about life, the lack of control we have or felt (during war and peace), it explores the meaning and purpose of life and an in-depth exploration of the human condition during times of war, and peace. I enjoyed each of the character’s reflection on their life and choices. Parts of the novel contains Tolstoy’s point of view in an almost essay form, which is very un-novel like. I was surprised by how liberally Tolstoy used his narrator’s voice in the book to share his views about the war and life in general.

It was an interesting read despite being someone who doesn’t really like war themed books, however I can see why this is a very important and relevant novel to read as it contains many great reflections on life, war, happiness and purpose.

-NJ

The Things We Promise by J.C Burke

Powerful and an Absolute Tear Jerker

Book Summary
Gemma has been planning her formal from day one and all she cared about is looking great and hoping to catch the attention of the boy she liked. Her brother Billy, who is a renowned make up artist in New York had promised her that he will return home to do her make up for the formal. However nothing is what it seems and Gemma soon discovers the secret that her mum is hiding. Gemma learns about the deadly AIDS epidemic sweeping the world causing fear and intolerance. Gemma realises that her world is changing and it’s not as rose-tinted like before, she learns and navigates through her new experiences; new friendships were forged and old ones broken. “The Things We Promise” is a moving and heartbreaking story that tugs your heart strings.

The Reviews
This book is powerful and an absolute tear jerker, it’s a reminder of a not-so-long ago period where there’s a lot of discrimination and ignorance about AIDS and HIV. I happen to remember these times and it was horrific, the discrimination and isolation the sufferers have to endure is unimaginable. I felt the book was authentic to the times and the setting. It was a confronting time for many families. I liked the exploration of character growth, and the strength of love, family and friendship contrasting against a horrifying disease, and a divisive, ignorant and intolerant society. It was well written and an essential read so we can continue to improve as a diverse and loving society.
-NJ

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The Things We Promise is an impactful read. Set in Sydney, during 1990, this story highlights the AIDS epidemic. The story is from the perspective of a teenage girl and follows her in the lead up to her school formal. The countdown to the formal is Intertwined with her relationships with her friends and family. This includes her relationship with her brother and his partner. As history shows, this was a horrifying time for the LGBT+ community. This community faced discrimination at a time where AIDS was killing off entire friendship groups. I have seen that some other reviewers have had issues with the homophobic language in this book. This is a good thing. We should absolutely be horrified and offended by the derogatory language used by characters to describe LGBT+ characters in this book. We should be horrified because this happened. It is still happening. If the book didn’t use this kind of language it would be doing a disservice as it would downplay the discrimination of that time. I certainly remember hearing that kind of language in the late 90s. I imagine it was worse in 1990 when AIDS was on everyone’s mind. We should be offended by derogatory slurs. But at the same time it is important to not censor the past. Rather we should use this as a tool for discussion. Due to the topics discussed in this book it is not an easy read. It is painful to read about a time when a lot of people died and to learn about the hardships that these characters  faced. However, this story highlights a period of time that isn’t covered enough in literature. Especially in YA. The Things We Promise tells a story that shows how far we have come and still how far we have to go for true equality. It highlights the horrors of a disease which has killed millions of people worldwide. I think that it’s important that people read more books like The Things We Promise. So that we don’t forget the horrors of that time.
-Amanda

Curio Boutque special: designer swag inspired by the book

Special thanks to Allen and Unwin Publishers for sending us Review Copies in exchange for our honest review.

My Name is Victoria by Lucy Worsley

Riveting read for those who like history with a twist!

My Name is Victoria is a sensational read about the young Queen Victoria in a fictional setting. It’s an interesting read that explores the young Queen’s life from when she was a young princess up to adolescence. I enjoyed the themes explored including friendship, loyalty, and selflessness. There are some twists and turns which did surprise me. I recommend this book for young readers who like history and learning about Queen Victoria’s struggles growing up in a royal household and fighting the “system” that she was born into. The chapters are set at different life stages of Queen Victoria as well as well known landmark settings like Kensington Place and Winsor Castle. I particularly liked the illustrations at the beginning of each section which depicts the setting of the story and the black silhouettes at the beginning of each chapter which gives the book a fairy-tale vibe. This book makes you want to learn more about the monarchy and the secrets behind what it is like to be royal. It’s a worthwhile, well researched and entertaining read!

– NJ

Freedom Swimmer by Wai Chim

“Maybe in the nightfall, we will find the true light.”

A heart-rending story set in real-life dystopian history of China’s cultural revolution. A story of friendship, hope, and freedom.

I have thoroughly enjoyed reading Freedom Swimmer, I was attracted to this book initially because there weren’t many books written in English on the cultural revolution in China. During the revolution period of 1962-1976 people living in China had to use ration tickets in exchange for food, clothing and furniture. This was a period where family members turned against each other, teachers and business owners publically whipped and shamed for being “exploitative”, and young students recruited to the Red Guard to spread the words of Mao Zedong (Chairman Mao). Mao Zedong’s words and ideology brainwashed and manipulated a generation of young men and women, putting them through unimaginable suffering, separating them from their families and “re-educating” their ideals; in short, robbing people of their freedom to choose and think for themselves.

Freedom Swimmer is the first Young Adult (YA) novel I have come across that explores such a complex period in China’s history through the eyes of two 17-year-old boys (Li and Ming). Ming and Li questioned the suffering that they were made to witness and endure, coming to terms with the impact of the cultural revolution and famine on their family and friends. For a better life, they’ve decided to swim for freedom through shark-infested waters to Hong Kong. Ming and Li’s story is written with so much heart and soul; at times it was gut-wrenching. There were some truly heartbreaking moments that you just have to read for yourself. The themes of friendship, coming-of-age, love and hope contrast wonderfully against this real-life dystopian backdrop which made the characters highly relatable despite the story setting in a different time and culture. Freedom Swimmer was also inspired by the author’s father’s experience and his real-life freedom swim from China to Hong Kong. This is truly a notable and unique read if you’re after a book with depth and insight, or is interested in reading about a real dystopian period in recent history.  This book is highly relevant today given the issues concerning the plight of refugees/asylum seekers, as Ming’s father said to him in Freedom Swimmer –“it doesn’t matter where they’re from, all desperate men are the same.” I highly recommend this read!

– NJ

A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini

5 star read!

This book made me weep, it broke my heart, I glued it back but it would never be the same. The story is deeply moving from the beginning to the end, and the gut-wrenching atrocities of war, abuse, betrayal experienced by the protagonists would make anyone grateful and humble for the life they have. It is a heavy-read that takes you through a myriad of emotions (both good and bad), in this book you’ll also experience friendship, love and personal strength. You will learn much about the history and politics of Afghanistan and its impact on the people. Not for the faint-hearted. Be ready for a gut-wrenching, heart shattering read.

Click here to read the book blurb on Goodreads.

– NJ