Tuesday, 6 April 2021

Review: Eva and Eve: A Search for My Mother's Lost Childhood and What a War Left Behind by Julie Metz

Thank you to the author for sending me a copy in exchange for an honest review

Publication date: 6th April 2021

Publisher: Atria Books

Pages: 320

The author of the New York Times bestselling memoir Perfection returns with an unforgettable account of her late mother’s childhood in Nazi-occupied Austria and the parallels she sees in present-day America.

To Julie Metz, her mother, Eve, was the quintessential New Yorker. Eve rarely spoke about her childhood and it was difficult to imagine her living anywhere else except Manhattan, where she could be found attending Carnegie Hall and the Metropolitan Opera or inspecting a round of French triple crème at Zabar’s.

In truth, Eve had endured a harrowing childhood in Nazi-occupied Vienna. After her mother passed, Julie discovered a keepsake book filled with farewell notes from friends and relatives addressed to a ten-year-old girl named Eva. This long-hidden memento was the first clue to the secret pain that Julie’s mother had carried as a refugee and immigrant, shining a light on a family that had to persevere at every turn to escape the antisemitism and xenophobia that threatened their survival.

Interweaving personal memoir and family history, Eva and Eve vividly traces one woman’s search for her mother’s lost childhood while revealing the resilience of our forebears and the sacrifices that ordinary people are called to make during history’s darkest hours.

I adored “Perfection”, Metz’s memoir, and have incredibly fond memories of being curled up in front of the wood-burner drinking tea and reading, so I was delighted when the author contacted me offering a copy of her latest book to review.

I am, on the whole, a fiction reader. It takes a special kind of book to pull me out into the world of non-fiction, and Metz never fails to captivate me with her glittering words. This book caught on a particularly raw nerve following the death of my mum, and I felt a sense of kinship with Metz as she deals with the grief of her mother’s passing in the first section of the book, and how keenly she feels the loss of the pieces of her mother’s past that she’ll now never have the chance to ask about. That feeling of loss, of loneliness, of the need to understand and fill in the blanks that she never felt able to ask about due to a tumultuous relationship, are the driving force of the story as she picks up, puts down, uncovers a little more of the mystery and then is swept up in her own life again for a while.

Whilst on the surface it is a book about her mother, ultimately it digs into a host of lives that impacted the incredible events that culminated in her mother’s escape from Nazi occupied Vienna. Whilst sometimes keeping such a host of people straight in my head was bewildering, I loved Metz’s attention to detail and how she worked to uncover all the pieces that created this whole. It is a sprawling, beautiful book, that examines the family before, during and after such a cataclysmic and traumatic event, as well as uncovering those who made the escape possible, and Metz’s own exploration of the story and the people who helped her along the way. Her own retracing of her family’s steps added additional layers of colour as she found small ways to connect her present to the past and stand where her mother once stood. It is part an expression of grief, part examination of the America Metz was experiencing at the time of writing and the political upheaval and parallels to her mother’s story, and part love letter to her mother - a truly extraordinary woman.

With a delicate touch, Metz weaves all of this together into an incredible whole, and I found myself quickly captivated and desperate to snatch moments to read further. Indeed, I found myself missing Julius, Anna and Eva’s company in the days after I finished reading. I liked the quiet joy that pervaded their lives in Vienna before 1938, and felt keenly the desperate fear and determination that threaded through their escape.

This is an incredible and thought provoking book that opened my eyes to a slice of history I found I was shockingly ignorant over, and humanised it further with brief snatches of fiction as Metz imagines what life was like for her mother and grandparents in a life altering handful of years. Beautiful, poignant, and filled with love for her lost mother, this is an incredible book that I would not hesitate to recommend.

Wednesday, 15 July 2020

Review: Aix Marks The Spot by Sarah Anderson

Thanks to Netgalley for sending me a copy in exchange for an honest review

Publications date: June 16th 2020
Publisher: Seabreeze Books
Pages: 380

Jamie has been dreaming of this summer forever: of road trips and intensive art camps, of meeting cute boys with her best friend Jazz. What she didn’t count on was the car accident.
Exiled away from her family as her mother slowly learns to walk again, Jamie is sent to Provence and trapped in an isolated home with the French grandmother she has never met, the guilt of having almost killed her parents, and no Wi-Fi. Enough to drive a girl mad. That is, until, she finds an old letter from her father, the starting point in a treasure hunt that spans across cities and time itself. Somehow, she knows that the treasure is the key to putting her shattered family back together and that whatever lies at the end has the power to fix everything.
Armed only with a high-school-level of French and a map of train lines, she must enlist the aid of Valentin, a handsome local who’s willing to translate. To save her family, she has castle ruins to find and sea cliffs to climb; falling for her translator wasn’t part of her plan… 

After living in France for several years, and experiencing the whole wildly out of water experience of moving to a country where you cannot for the life of you get the words you know to come out in a coherent fashion, I am always keen to find books that distil that experience out onto the page. And this one does, but also doesn’t. It’s a curious mix.

Good things first: I really loved exploring the south of France. There were places that I’ve been to before and I shrieked delightedly at my husband that they were visiting Cassis. And places that I’ve never experienced that I immediately added to the itinerary or our next trip. It made me feel homesick for excellent coffee and pastries and the food. It transported me straight into the middle of a hot French summer, where you can barely think beyond the sound of the cicadas. 

However (you knew it was coming, didn’t you) I just couldn’t connect with Jamie. Whilst I completely empathised with the fish out of water experience, and struggling to keep up in a country where you aren’t fluent, I found her to be incredibly unlikable and frustrating. She is convinced that she’s been exiled to France because her parents hate her, and yet the few interactions she has with them early on do nothing to provide a basis for that. She struggles with the language yet makes zero effort to learn. She finds other tourists with their loud, obnoxious English conversations to be mortifying, yet can’t seem to understand that she is exactly the same.

It’s a light and quick read, and one that I enjoyed up to a point. But it never really finds its feet because it is weighed down by how frustrating I found Jamie. She wasn’t someone I wanted to spend time with - half the time I just wanted to shake her. However, as a book that catapults you right back into the heat of a summer in France it was a good escape.

Monday, 13 July 2020

Review: Sisters of Sword & Song by Rebecca Ross

Thanks to Netgalley for sending me a copy in exchange for an honest review

Publications date: June 25th 2020
Publisher: HarperCollins
Pages: 432

From the author of The Queen’s Rising comes a thrilling YA stand-alone fantasy about the unbreakable bond between sisters. Perfect for fans of Ember in the Ashes, Sky in the Deep, and Court of Fives.
After eight long years, Evadne will finally be reunited with her older sister, Halcyon, who has been proudly serving in the queen’s army. But when Halcyon appears earlier than expected, Eva knows something has gone terribly wrong. Halcyon is on the run, hunted by her commander and charged with murder.
Though Halcyon’s life is spared during her trial, the punishment is heavy. And when Eva volunteers to serve part of Halcyon’s sentence, she’s determined to find out exactly what happened. But as Eva begins her sentence, she quickly learns that there are fates much worse than death.

Rebecca Ross hit my auto-buy author list with her debut novel, and this (her third outing with a truly beautiful standalone novel) has cemented that position. It’s a truly beautiful novel, and the fact that it’s contained in a single book rather than investing in a new series just made me love it more. It’s refreshing in a world full of trilogies to be able to enjoy a book on its own.

I adored the world that Ross created, filled with Gods and relics and myths. It’s very reminiscent of ancient Greece, with its own twists and magic seeping into every crevice. Frankly I’d love a masterclass from Ross in world building, because she is just so good and with every story she tells, her world building becomes more complex and brilliant.

It’s a beautiful plot, tripping along from piece to piece and drawing you further into the world. But truly, the characters are what bring this to life. The sisters particularly are so complex, layered and their growth is so wonderful to watch. I was initially curious how the two differing voices would work in this story, but as it unfolds it becomes more obvious precisely why you need to hear both voices. Evadne and Halcyon demand to be hard, and their love for each other is what propels the book. They are two sides to the same coin, and I fell for them hard.

This was a standout book for the year. It’s filled with gorgeous prose, engaging characters, and fully immerses you in a stunning world. It’s a book that has stayed with me long after reading, and will be a story I return to again and again.

Friday, 10 July 2020

Review: The Betrothed by Kiera Cass

Thanks to Netgalley for sending me a copy in exchange for an honest review

Publication date: 5th May 2020
Publisher: HarperCollins Children’s Books
Pages: 400

When King Jameson declares his love for Lady Hollis Brite, Hollis is shocked—and thrilled. After all, she’s grown up at Keresken Castle, vying for the king’s attention alongside other daughters of the nobility. Capturing his heart is a dream come true.
But Hollis soon realizes that falling in love with a king and being crowned queen may not be the happily ever after she thought it would be. And when she meets a commoner with the mysterious power to see right into her heart, she finds that the future she really wants is one that she never thought to imagine.

I do not expect anything deep and meaningful with a Kiera Cass book. On the whole, they’re light, fluffy romances, that don’t really require too much thought and yet are highly addictive books. Which was exactly what I needed when I picked this up, and precisely what I didn’t get. There wasn’t really anything to redeem it - the character’s are flat caricatures that never develop or turn into anything worth sticking with. There is little to no plot until the last part where suddenly what could have been an entire book's worth of plot is rammed in and has little to no emotional resonance because of the aforementioned rubbish characters and lack of time spent developing the plot that’s shoved in. And insta-love. Oh boy, the insta-love. 
There were a couple of characters I would have been interested to have a book from, but nothing is really developed.In short, it is an absolute hot mess, that I’m staggered made it to being published. 

Wednesday, 8 July 2020

Review: The Gravity of Us by Phil Stamper

Spoilers below, proceed with caution.
Thanks to Netglley for providing me a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.

Publication date: 17th May 2020
Publisher: Bloomsbury
Pages: 313

As a successful social media journalist with half a million followers, seventeen-year-old Cal is used to sharing his life online. But when his pilot father is selected for a highly publicized NASA mission to Mars, Cal and his family relocate from Brooklyn to Houston and are thrust into a media circus.
Amidst the chaos, Cal meets sensitive and mysterious Leon, another “Astrokid,” and finds himself falling head over heels—fast. As the frenzy around the mission grows, so does their connection. But when secrets about the program are uncovered, Cal must find a way to reveal the truth without hurting the people who have become most important to him.
Expertly capturing the thrill of first love and the self-doubt all teens feel, debut author Phil Stamper is a new talent to watch.

This book had all the marks of a read that I was going to adore, but sadly ‘The Gravity of Us’ just didn’t pull me in. Part of this was due to not really connecting with Cal, as he often came across as completely selfish and didn’t give any consideration to what was going on with those around him. But the majority of this was due to slightly dubious  issues of consent running throughout.

There are two big instances of this, and they completely marred my enjoyment of the rest of the novel. Firstly, when Cal knows there are cameras on himself and Leon, and that Leon isn’t out, yet chooses to take Leon’s hand and have an intimate moment with him that he knows is being filmed and will eventually be broadcast. Leon is unaware of what’s happening, and only finds out when the footage is released. There’s a brief moment where Leon is horrified about what has happened and the knowledge  that Cal knew and acted with intent, but then it’s completely forgotten about and never discussed or resolved.
The second instance is the entire relationship between Cal’s parents. Cal’s father applies for the space programme without talking to his wife about it at any point. He then uproots the entire family and completely disregards his wife’s anxiety and wishes. Now maybe these are dealt with in conversations that Cal isn’t privy too, but it doesn’t seem like it, and the entire portrayal left me with a bad aftertaste.

The idea is intriguing, but it never really flies. I wanted to like it so much, but ultimately I just felt frustrated and disheartened by the issues I’ve outlined above, and they coloured my overall enjoyment of the book.

Tuesday, 30 April 2019

Books I'm Squeeing About in May

Spring is sprunging, and there are new books on the horizon! Which is excellent news for my brain, and  terrible news for my bank balance and book shelves. I need to build new bookshelves...
Here are the excitingly beautiful bookish delights hitting our shelves this month that I can't wait to get my hands on!

Wicked Saints by Emily A Duncan
May 1st 2019
When Nadya prays to the gods, they listen, and magic flows through her veins. For nearly a century the Kalyazi have been locked in a deadly holy war with Tranavian heretics, and her power is the only thing that is a match for the enemy's blood magic. But when the Travanian High Prince, and his army invade the monastery she is hiding in, instead of saving her people, Nadya is forced to flee the only home she's ever known, leaving it in flames behind her, and vengeance in her heart. As night falls, she chooses to defy her gods and forge a dangerous alliance with a pair of refugees and their Tranavian blood mage leader, a beautiful, broken boy who deserted his homeland after witnessing his blood cult commit unthinkable monstrosities. The plan? Assassinate the king and stop the war. But when they discover a nefarious conspiracy that goes beyond their two countries, everything Nadya believes is thrown into question, including her budding feelings for her new partner. Someone has been harvesting blood mages for a dark purpose, experimenting with combining Tranavian blood magic with the Kalyazi's divine one. In order to save her people, Nadya must now decide whether to trust the High Prince - her country's enemy - or the beautiful boy with powers that may ignite something far worse than the war they're trying to end.

Everything about this screams excitement to me. Magic! Fantasy land! War! Politics! Basically I need more things to filled "The Priory of the Orange Tree" shaped hole in my heart. Gimme!

Lady Smoke by Laura Sebastian
May 2nd 2019
After escaping from imprisonment under the brutal Kaiser, Theodosia is on the run, plotting to take revenge and reclaim her rightful place as queen of the enslaved Astreans.Thousands of miles away from her people and her throne, Theo and her friends must work to gather an army. And the only way is to auction herself as a bride – to the kingdom who will pay the most. Freedom always comes at a price and with the Kaiser closing in, she must rely on her wits to identify who she can really trust.
I know, I know, I still need to read the first book. But I know I'm going to love it, and I can still desperately want the sequel even not really knowing what's happening... I don't have a book problem. Really, I don't...

The Bride Test by Helen Hoang
May 7th 2019
Khai Diep has no feelings. Well, not big, important emotions - like grief. And love. He thinks he's defective. His family knows better - that his autism means he just processes emotions differently. When he steadfastly refuses to consider a relationship, his mother takes matters into her own hands and returns to Vietnam to find him the perfect bride.As a mixed-race girl living in the slums of Ho Chi Minh City, Esme Tran has always felt out of place. So when the opportunity arises to go to America and meet a potential husband, she can't turn it down. This could be the break her family needs. Seducing Khai, however, doesn't go quite as planned. Esme's lessons in love seem to be working... but only on herself. She's hopelessly smitten with a man who's convinced he can never return her affection.As Esme's time in the United States dwindles, will Khai let his head catch up with his heart? Will he find the strength to let go, and let love in?

I've seen so much buzz about this one already, and it just sounds amazing! I really need to read "The Kiss Quotient" too, but I cannot wait to get my hands on this!

Romanov by Nadine Brandes
May 30th 2019
The history books say I died. They don't know the half of it. Anastasia "Nastya" Romanov was given a single mission: to smuggle an ancient spell into her suitcase on her way to exile in Siberia. It might be her family's only salvation. But the leader of the Bolshevik army is after them... and he's hunted Romanov before. Nastya's only chances of saving herself and her family are either to release the spell and deal with the consequences, or to enlist help from Zash, the handsome soldier who doesn't act like the average Bolshevik. Nastya's only dabbled in magic, but it doesn't frighten her half as much as her growing attraction for Zash. She likes him. She thinks he might even like her... That is, until she's on one side of a firing squad... and he's on the other.

I adore stories about the Romanovs so this just sounds amazing and exciting and I really hope it lives up to the hype, because I want to love it so bad!

There you have the books I can't wait for this month, now tell me some of yours in the comments below!

Tuesday, 23 April 2019

Top Ten Tuesday: The first ten books I reviewed on The Review Diaries

Top Ten Tuesday is a feature hosted by the fabulous Jana at The Artsy Reader Girl. You can join in with future topics here!

Ah those were the days! The ones when I first started blogging and frankly was not the best, but I was young and bright eyed and eager to share my love of the books with the world!
It's been nine years, and looking back I fear that I somewhat questionable taste in some of my first reads and reviews for the blog. But it's always fun to dig them out and see how far I've come. So without further ado, here are the first ten book reviews I wrote for this site!

Matched by Ally Condie
A weirdly strange dystopian that never managed to capture my heart enough for me to finish reading the trilogy. It was still enjoyable, and I can recall a few of the details of the story, but not enough to make me want to revisit it.
You can read my full review here.

From Notting Hill with Love... Actually by Ali McNamara
Gosh I still love this book. A pitch perfect romance that takes some of the best parts of my very favourite rom coms and weaves them into a truly stunning debut. It's been years since I last read this one, but I'm feeling super nostalgic now and want to go back for a re-read!
You can read my full review here.

Dark Road to Darjeeling by Deanna Raybourn
Deanna Raybourn still holds my heart for the best historical murder mystery novels I've ever had the pleasure of reading. This book marked a shift in the Lady Julia Grey mysteries, stepping away from the will they/won't they of the first three novels, and showcasing what life together looks like for Julia and Brisbane. I still love this book and I revisit it frequently.
You can read my full review here.

Entice by Carrie Jones
I have vague memories of a super cold setting, faeries, and some norse mythology thrown in, but I couldn't tell you anything more about this book. Oh, the covers are quite cool. Yeah, that's it.
You can read my full review here.

Strictly Shimmer by Amanda Roberts
This was a terrible decision. No matter how much I enjoyed Strictly Come Dancing, this book was a poor life choice. I hadn't quite worked out how to review a book that I didn't like by this point, so I mostly just got frustrated. Spoiler alert, despite my intentions, I did not go back and subject myself to the second book - in fact I've no idea if it was even published.
You can read my full review here.

Infinite Days by Rebecca Maizel
Despite my better judgement and general vampire fatigue of the time, I actually enjoyed this vampire filled story. What I most remember about reading this one, was the feeling of sinking into a good story and becoming utterly lost inside it. It's not one I've revisited since, but I have fond recollections of reading it.
You can read my full review here.

New Cardiff by Charles Webb
I found the film (Hope Springs, starring Colin Firth) first and thoroughly love it, so I was intrigued to find out what the book was like. In answer, not at all like the film. A curious, fascinatingly written story, I found myself appreciating the book as its own entity and finished loving both.
You can read my full review here.

When the Duke Returns by Eloisa James
My love affair with Eloisa James was only really beginning way back when nine years ago. Thankfully it's still going strong, and her Desperate Duchesses series remains my favourite of all her works. Plus I love the UK covers.
You can read my full review here.

Entangled by Cat Clarke
A gorgeous debut novel I loved Clarke's writing, and have come back to her and her startlingly real stories many times over the years.
You can read my full review here.

The Girl with Glass Feet by Ali Shaw
This novel still makes me cry. All of Ali's do. It's beautiful, captivating, heart breaking, dark and twisty and filled with unexpected magic. It's a quiet novel that utterly ruined me, but I still think of it often.
You can read my full review here.

So there you have the first ten book reviews I posted on this site! I have to admit, it's been a blast going back and digging through my first few posts - working out which books I started with and what I remember of them. 

Have you read any of these? Let me know in the comments below!

Monday, 15 April 2019

TV review: Game of Thrones S08E01 - Winterfell

After a nearly interminable wait between seven and eight, a mammoth re-watch of the preceding seasons, and far too many theories to count -  season eight finally aired its premier episode last night and hit all of the right notes.

Moving multiple people around on the ever moving chessboard as we set up for the big battle to come, this was a relatively understated affair that still packed a hell of a punch as we're thrust back into the world of Thrones.

Given that most people in the UK will have been sensible and not gotten up to watch the premier at 2am, my thoughts on the episode are below the cut.