Blue stained wood with crimson carnations

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Book Review: Whispers in the Reading Room

Hello Dear Readers! Today I am reviewing a fabulous looking new book from author Shelley Grey, Whispers in the Reading Room! I love the cover of this book, it drew me in right away and made me want to know what mystery I was going to uncover inside!
Our heroine is Lydia Bancroft, the librarian for a small reading room in Chicago after the World’s Fair. Lydia loves her little domain of books, helping others love reading, and reading about the faraway places and adventures that she will never experience in person. Having fallen drastically in fortune after her father’s death her mother is doing all in her power to make an advantageous society match for Lydia and restore their fortune and social standing, though willing to help her mother the only way she knows how Lydia would really love to be left to the solace of her books!
When the quiet and mysterious library patron Sebastian Marks comes to Lydia’s rescue one day the two of them begin a whirlwind friendship that knocks Lydia off her feet with his attentions and kindness- and finds her wishing that there might be more than friendship between them. When Lydia finds out that Sebastian is the owner of a notorious underground gambling saloon in the worst part of town she must decide who he really is, who she can trust, and how any relationship between them can survive.
From the first moments of opening this book I was sure I was going to love it- and I did! Whispers in the Reading Room is a zippy read with a smart and resourceful heroine in Lydia. She is someone who has curiosity about the world around her and dreams about what it would be like to be the heroine in one of the books she reads. She is someone who is both a compassionate dutiful daughter and someone who knows her own value. Sebastian is an interesting and different hero who comes from a rough-and-tumble background and has raised himself to prosperity and sophistication through his love of reading.
I found the word play between the two book lovers a delicious treat for a fellow bibliophile and I liked the language banter between them. I even found myself laughing out loud at their discussion of Austen’s Emma as I too would agree with Sebastian’s opinion! J  I really loved the author’s writing style too and I as a read through I found myself delighted as I haven’t enjoyed a turn of phrase so much in ages!  Shelley Grey is a new author to me and this is the first of her books that I have read but I can’t wait to go and pick up the other two books she’s written under the “A Chicago World’s Fair Mystery” banner!

Overall, this book is a fast paced fun read. Sometimes the relationship between Lydia and Sebastian moves quickly in this novel but I didn’t find it out of place, it just reflected the fast pace of the swinging city. I didn’t find any big red flags in this content wise, many of the scenes take place in Sebastian’s world, which is far from propriety, but nothing was overdone or gratuitous. Whispers reminded me of any number of old black and white films. In fact, though the settings are a bit different, this book really reminded me of the Judy Garland movie The Harvey Girls! Whispers in the Reading Room will be a great weekend read for anyone! In fact, I dare you to try and put it down! 

Final Rating: 4.5 

I have been given a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review and opinion of the product.

Book Review: The Girl From the Train

Well dear readers, I have to admit that it took a little getting into to begin this book but now that I dedicated some time to beginning afresh I have to tell you that I wizzed through this book in a day’s time! I simply couldn’t put it down!

The Girl From the Train by Irma Joubert is a book with a bit of an unusual history. Originally published in South Africa, and then the Netherlands, it became a best seller in both countries! Now it has again been translated, into English this time, and is being published through Thomas Nelson.
Beginning in Poland during the height of the Second World War we meet little six year old German-Jewish Gertl Schmidt and are drawn along into her life story. Gertl is orphaned, family-less, homeless, and hopeless- until she comes into the life of Jakob Kowalski who fights for Poland with the Home Army and against all forces- German or Russian- that want to destroy his beloved homeland. Gertl and Jakob form a strong bond- the kind that can only be forged in the intensity of bombs, and blood, and the pain of relentless nightmares.

In time Jakob and his family can no longer safely care for Gertl in the politically turbulent Poland so he is forced to send her where she can be better cared for, and eventually have a chance at a new life as an adopted war orphan in South Africa.

I was really kind of blown away by this book! Through reading it I realized even on a subject I thought I had thoroughly covered there is still so much about WWII that I do not know and so much I need to learn. Many times historical fiction that is written on this era is told from the point of view of an American or a Brit, having this story told from the eyes of a person who is in the very center of the conflict packs a huge emotional punch. For example, there is a moment early on in the book where knowledge and book hungry Gertl has been studying an atlas and is trying to identify nearby markers and towns but the thing she searched for, Auschwitz, wasn’t on the map. I have to tell you that one small line, one small detail, was like being doused in cold water.

The beauty of this book is in the small details. The storytelling style reminded me (from what I remember) of the Little House series. The style is not elaborate or embellished but is simply related in honestly told truths. In Gertl’s younger years many of her personal observations come off as stark or abrupt but it is simply the nature of a child who has seen and experienced things beyond her years. In time this matures into a special kind of warmth and magnetism as Gertl, now Afrikkans Grietjie Neethling, becomes a young woman.

I am known for loving books that have well drawn detailed descriptions- for a girl who grew up on George MacDonald it’s no wonder really. It’s the quality of those descriptions and what they end up conveying however that are the important part. So often writing can go from in-depth to long-winded in the space of a few words, but that is not the case here. In The Girl From the Train so much is said in so few words- and the effect is very powerfully touching. 

On the ‘warnings’ side of things readers should be aware that there maybe a few instances of objectionable material depending on their comfort level with wartime violence or romantic scenes. There is two times that profanity occurs and while I don’t condone that it’s not gratuitous or out of place for the context of the setting. This book also explores the two faiths of Catholicism and Protestantism and does a good job of relating why those faiths are different even while respecting the sincerely held beliefs of both. One little nitpick was that I very much wished the publisher had included some type of glossary at the end for help in pronouncing some of the eastern-European and Afrikkans names and places. I confess I felt rather stupid bumbling through them and wished I could say them properly!

I would highly recommend this book as being the next thing you should read! I was taken in from cover to cover and feel as if I read something worthwhile for my time. It is a book that I know will be driving me to dive back into world history- and left me very satisfied with Grietjie’s new beginnings in the end.

Final Rating: 5

I have been given a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review and opinion of the product.