Come drift away on to an exotic locale, mingling with the rich and famous, discovering half-truths and beguiling secrets meant to never be released. The Invitation by Lucy Foley is a world unlike any other. The characters all have depth and double meanings, and there is so much more than what meets the eye in this tale. Breathtaking locations and an even more passionate story entangled within the main plot all help the reader to escape into this world. I felt as if time stopped, and the only thing that existed was the world within these pages. It was romantic and depressing, vile and gorgeous; it was a giant ball of contradictions and paradoxes. Yet, like many of the characters, I was both repulsed and drawn in by the siren call of this story. It’s definitely something I would read again and was not fully what I expected when I began reading. The Invitation is many things but boring would not be one of them. I enjoyed this book very much and would love for others to experience the beauty and the pain that is Lucy Foley’s work.
Little, Brown and Company
Lily of the Valley—An American Jewish Journey
This heartfelt saga in verse form is about five generations of women’s journeys from Russia’s persecuting pogroms of the 1890s to America during the 2000s, including Ellis Island and New York’s Lower East Side sweatshops.
The story is broken up into five parts, one for each of the women’s generation. The story begins and ends with Lily. Laili is a young girl who flees Russia during the pogrom of 1890’s that persecuted Jews. Her name changed to Lily on Ellis Island. Part Two tells the tale of Lily’s daughter, Molly, who unlike her mother, survives the fire in the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory. Molly’s daughter, Lily, grows up during the Great Depression of the 1930s, but fortune smiles on her and she marries and has a daughter, Maxine whose tale about growing up in the 60s is told in Part Four. Maxine’s daughter Lily reaps the benefit of modern day America. But she acknowledges that her good fortune came about because of all the sacrifice and perseverance of the spirited women before her who had dreams of a better life— free of discrimination and persecution for being Jewish.
Author Xianna Michaels wastes no time diving into the theme of persecution and hope, with the first stanza explaining how the pogrom, and the attack on her mother and infant brother led to Lily and her sister, Basya, being sent on a ship, To the Goldene Medina, where life/Is free of fear and blood and strife. Michaels effectively gets to the crux of each story, maintaining the fast flow as all five generations of women trying to find their new identity while maintaining and learning about their Jewish heritage. Michaels reveals how life improves for each generation by infusing details that are also historical milestones—such as the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire that kills Molly’s mother and the mention of the G.I. Bill.
While the ababcc rhythm limits the narrative at times for the sake of rhyming, it works well at times to create a juxtaposition of light rhyme and heavy content during some of the heavier descriptions—including in the last two lines of the stanza: It was ninety two, the end had come/For this was Laili’s last pogrom.Though some of the descriptions to accommodate the rhyming scheme are simplified and don’t expound on the themes and details as much as they could; it makes this story suitable for a younger audience, and can be a spring board into rich discussion on themes about numerous events in history including Jewish immigrants in America and how they influence in New York’s culture.
Lily of The Valley—An American Jewish Journey is a beautiful tribute, not only to America—a land of opportunity and hope—but also to family, love and human spirit.
Charlotte: A Novel
Charlotte by David Foenkinos is a historical fiction novel that will take readers deep into the heart of history that still leaves a terrible mark everywhere. It’s World War II and a young woman with a love of art tries to stay alive during a troubled time. A time when all Jews, like herself, were being rounded up, tortured, and killed. Readers are brilliantly taken back in time and get to follow Charlotte Salomon as she goes about her life during the worst moments in World History. A narrow escape from a camp will set readers’ hearts into a frenzy and will keep them on the edge of their seats as they continue this woman’s journey. For fans of Anne Frank, this is indeed a must-read novel for all.
David Foenkinos has stunningly recaptured the World War II dark time period. His words will automatically send readers on a haunted path to fear, danger, and even death. The scenes were so real I felt as though I were indeed there experiencing everything with my own eyes, ears, and heart. I felt the panic and incredible fear as the young woman went about trying to live her life and staying away from death. But, as we all know, once we have been marked, it stays with us until our fates are met. A sad, but realistic, tale that is a tribute to the brave woman, Charlotte Salomon. The evils of World War II will forever haunt readers, and the shocking, but real, truth of what went on will keep readers lured in until the last page. David Foenkinos’s novel, Charlotte, is one that I highly recommend to readers worldwide. His words are beautifully told in a way that will captivate his audience for ages to come.
Rated 5.00 out of 5Katherine of Aragon, The True Queen: A Novel
Even though they are quite prevalent, it was impossible not to get excited about another novel involving the wives of the infamous King Henry VIII. Katherine of Aragon, The True Queen did not disappoint. This is the first in a series of six novels – each following one of his wives.
The story starts out with Katherine preparing for her wedding to Prince Arthur, Henry’s older brother. He dies shortly thereafter and Katherine’s future is unsure. She waits for eight years before Henry finally marries her and they have a happy life together. However, after many miscarriages, stillbirths, and no son for an heir, things become strained. Then, Anne Boleyn comes onto the scene. Henry attempts to divorce Katherine and in doing so declares himself the head of the Church of England. Until her dying day, Katherine does not give up that she is the true and rightful Queen.
It is very apparent that Ms. Weir did her research through the utilization of real letters and testimonies from that time. There was so much detail that it was easy to be transported to that life. You could not help but take Katherine’s side. Since Anne Boleyn was made to be quite the villain in this novel, I can’t wait to see what her side of the story is in the next book. A long read, but well worth it.
One Cowrie Shell
Sparks’ One Cowrie Shell is a tragic coming-of-age story set amidst the backdrop of a terrible period in humanity’s near history. Jaiye is a member of the Yoruba tribe. He is on the cusp of manhood, tending his yam field, and dreaming of the woman he wants as his wife. Unfortunately for Jaiye, Kembi is already promised to another. It is the custom of the Yoruba that village elders arrange marriages. Kembi is promised to Ekun, and Akinya to Jaiye. Our young protagonist is very inquisitive and very stubborn. He is ready to go fight the neighboring Dahomey, as his people have done for as long as anyone can remember. He wants to turn prisoners over to the slave traders and earn cowrie shells. While merely pretty shells to the Europeans and Americans, cowrie shells serve a monetary value to the Yoruba and Dahomey.
Jaiye repeatedly insists, with the stubbornness teens anywhere can muster, that he will have Kembi for his wife. Despite the counsel and contrivances of his father, Jaiye will not let go of the foolish idea. He commits a terrible crime, earning him thirty cowries in blood money, and his actions lead to three villagers being taken away by slavers- Ekun, Kembi, and Jaiye’s little brother, Lekan. Jaiye embarks on a perilous journey to find them, crossing the ocean and stalking plantations like a panther in the dark, careful to stay out of sight. His journey takes him up and down the U.S. coast, across the sea to England, and back home to the Yoruba.
Though Jaiye learns of all three who were taken, not one of them makes the journey back home with him. Jaiye returns with a wealth of knowledge, though. He is the first to travel to ’the other world,’ and returned to tell of it. He has seen the atrocities inflicted on the slaves–the beatings, the rapes, the senseless killings. Jaiye has a new mission in life, albeit, perhaps a somewhat futile one. He wants to stop the fighting between Yoruba and Dahomey for good, something easier said than done. Jaiye goes from being g a self-absorbed child, for the most part, to a somewhat respectable man.
Fun stuff: I am an anthropologist by schooling, if not active practice, and I loved the glimpses of Yoruba culture and history. These details seem accurate so far as my knowledge goes. This region/cultural milieu isn’t my forte, but I am now interested in learning more. The details of slave trading, and this era of slavery, were an accurate reminder of a harsh and senselessly heartbreaking period. One particular point of interest for me was the funerary customs of the Yoruba and the superstitions regarding daytime burials, such as the spirit seeing their shadow and retaliate against the living.
Jaiye slowly learned valuable lessons, such as the Yoruba and Dahomey should stop fighting and sending people to the slavers, and that the loss of dignity suffered by captives of either side has no monetary value. I was particularly touched when Jaiye found Ekun and came to the realization that Ekun had seen him as a friend, not a competitor. Jaiye began to realize the harsh consequences of his actions in relation to what happened to Lekan, Kembi, and Ekun, which were horrific events even hearing about them ‘second-hand.’
Not so fun stuff: the writing seemed very simplistic at times. There was a good deal of telling, when showing would have been more engaging. Some of the dialogue, and other phrasing, seems stilted. It comes across as forced and unrealistic. There were also descriptions of daily activity that is random and, while interesting, not relevant to the story.
I would strongly recommend a professional editing round to help strengthen and tighten the writing. There is a good deal of unnecessary repetition that could be phrased differently, implied in different ways, or eliminated altogether. Point: Jaiye’s father reiterating numerous times that Akinya will be his wife; she is the one chosen for him, and it cannot be changed. Jaiye needs a smart Gibbs smack to the back of the head. His poor da has patience to put a saint to shame.
Another issue that cropped up often were places where quote marks were missing or where they are present and should not be. Tense bounced back and forth from present to past in same paragraph, sometimes even same sentence. Occasionally, type switched to italics for no apparent reason, which jarred me from the story as I attempted to suss out why the change had been made.
This story has a lot of potential, and Sparks could take it so much further. There’s certainly room for Sparks to bloom as an author. I hope to see an edited, cleaned-up second edition of One Cowrie Shell in the future! I will happily adjust my rating accordingly, and I do intend to keep a weather eye out for new works by the author.
Whitehall (Season 1 Episode 3): “On His Blindness”
Three things are obvious: 1) You can knock Barbara down a notch, but she climbs right back up. 2) Catherine’s journey to England to become its new queen through her marriage to Charles II is helping her find a strength she never knew she had. 3) With two strong-minded women in his life and a country to rule, Charles may have an easier time leading the country than keeping his women completely in check.
A name is stricken off the list for Lady of the Bedchamber. Battles of will are at a standstill between the King and Queen. A power hungry mistress fights to gain what she feels she deserves. Needless to say, while there is work to be done by the many maids and servants in the castle there are plenty of whispers floating around to keep them entertained as they work.
Whitehall seems to have started at a sprint and just keeps on going with no sign of slowing down in sight. Episode 2 is definitely an episode of retaliation, deception, and emotion bubbling to the surface. “Bold” can hardly describe the actions by Charles, Barbara, and Catherine. There is a famous line from English playwright and poet William Congrave, ‘Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.’ I believe that this episode takes this quote and alters it a bit to imply ‘Hell hath no fury like an underestimated woman.’ Which woman prevails has yet to be seen, but after reading episodes one through three it is still anyone’s game. Keep up with Whitehall by reading episodes one through three so you are ready to join the scandalous exploits that are sure to come!
Read our other episode reviews of Whitehall.