Monday, May 31, 2021

State of the ARC #35

 

State of the ARC is a monthly feature hosted by Evelina at Avalinah's Books - and now me, too! I took over temporary hosting duties back in early 2020. A couple months ago Evelina asked if I would like to co-host and of course I said yes! If you are new to the meme, you can check out the guidelines HERE.

Links go to my review. The majority of the ARCs I receive are through NetGalley. Some have come from publicists, or were offered to me from a publisher who specifically approved me for it on NetGalley; I will always note in the review how I acquired the ARC.

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Currently Reading
The Coffin Ship - June, 2021
Maiden Voyages - August, 2021
The Real Valkyrie - August, 2021
The Ambassador - August, 2021

Where the Light Fell - October, 2021

Finished, Review to Come
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Anna Komnene - April, 2020
Plantagenet princes - April, 2021
The Brothers York - June, 2020
The Deviant's War - June, 2020

Juror Number 2 - November, 2020
The Killer of the Princes in the Tower - April, 2021

Review or Feedback Sent
 The Lost Pianos of Siberia51352065

When I first started blogging my monthly State of the ARC I felt like I was drowning in ARCs. My main goal was to get my NetGalley feedback ratio above 80% and thanks to this meme, I slowly but surely clawed my way up. At my highest I was at 97%. I am currently at 92%.

How are you doing with your ARC goals? Let's talk ARCs!

Happy Reading
Sarah

You are invited to the Inlinkz link party!

Click here to enter

Tackling the TBR Week 20: May 22 - May 31, 2021

 


I am now entering year three of Tackling the TBR. Slowly but surely I have made big strides in getting by TBR under control. When I first started in 2019, my TBR was topping out at over 5,000 books. I don't know that I will ever get below 500, but a #BookDragon can dream!


I will be posting on the 7th, 14th, 21st, and the last day of the month. Feel free to join in if you'd like!


Previous Week's TBR Total: 2,907


Currently Reading



Books Added to TBR:


Books Removed from TBR: 0



Books Read


Books DNF-ed: 0





Duplicates Removed: 1


New TBR Total: 2,906


Any of these catch your eye? Have you already read any? Let me know!


Happy Reading!

Sarah

You are invited to the Inlinkz link party!

Click here to enter

Eleanor Reads! May Edition

    

Each month Eleanor and I share the chapter books we've read in that period. We've been reading chapter books since before Kindergarten and her attention span as a four year old was definitely something to brag about. Eleanor was born a reader and that makes my heart so, so happy.

Read


Do the kiddos in your life have an interest in any of these?

It was a pretty slow reading month with it being the end of the school year and end of the dance season, but I have a feeling in June we will be busy, busy reading bees.

Happy Reading,
Eleanor and Sarah

Book Review | Marion Lane and the Midnight Murder


Rating ⭐⭐⭐⭐

I really was not sure if I would love this one as much as I did. I liked the premise and thought this whole secret world sounded captivating, but steampunk is not my thing and neither is fantasy. But history definitely is. Luckily, the elements of each genre blended together in an incredible way and I will be reading the next one as soon as it is out.

Readers are immediately immersed in the world of late 1950s London. But it is a different kind of world than you might expect, as far beneath the busy city streets a detective agency cloaked in secrecy exists, aiding citizens who the police can not help. This group of detectives and investigators-in-raining work for Miss Brickett's Investigations and Inquiries and were specifically recruited for employment.

Late one evening Michelle White, a filing assistant whose career path never took her on the Investigator trajectory, receives a letter indicating a terrible crime will occur. She heeds the warning in the letter and sets off to find out what is going on, only to be murdered at midnight. Given that the murder occurred within the confines of the agency, it is clear from the start that the murderer works there. Suddenly EVERYONE is a suspect.

Enter Marion Lane, in her first year with the agency. She is still in training to become an Inquirer but is sucked into the mayhem when her mentor is framed for White's murder. She knows he is innocent and sets out to prove it.

I loved the world-building here - a sentence I never thought I would ever type. The entrance to Miss Brickett's is located beneath a trapdoor in a bookshop that serves as Marion's cover for where she works. The entire labyrinth, the city beneath a city basically, was skillfully created and I wanted to explore every nook and cranny. Luckily Marion's investigation takes her all over and we get to see many parts of the agency.

I thought Marion was a well-developed lead character, and much of her supporting cast was as well. She is clever and likable and you want her to be successful in clearing her mentor's name. Throughout the book we meet fellow inquirers-in-training who are studying at the academy, as well as their professors, and of Inquirers, the job all those in training aspire to have.

This is one of those books where you really have to pay attention to everything that's going on because it all comes together in the end and everything is important. Even if it seems like just a spot of gossip, it could be something more so keep your eyes and ears open. There's a lot going on but I did not feel like it was overwhelming in any way. It was just more and more pieces of the puzzle coming together to make the picture clear.

I am looking forward to the next book and seeing how the Inquirers go about solving crimes on the outside. Here in the first novel the majority of the story takes place within the agency itself, as that is where the murder occurred. I am psyched to see what gadgets and technology Marion will use, and what the author will come up with next.

The beginning is a slow burn but stick with it, it will be worth it!

Sunday, May 30, 2021

NetGalley ARC | Never Greater Slaughter: Brunanburh and the Birth of England


I received a free digital ARC from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Rating ⭐⭐⭐⭐

I'm not usually one for any kind of military history, but I will always make an exception for the Anglo-Saxons I love so much. Quite lucky, aren't they? Even the Plantagenets don't get that kind of treatment from me.

Part of the draw here though is that the book is so much more than the battle itself, but the archaeology behind finding out where the battle truly took place, as this information as been long lost to history.

The Battle of Brunanburh seems inevitable, once one knows the history leading up to it. The author does a fantastic job laying this history out in an easily readable way even for those with little background knowledge on the topic. He begins with the Celtic tribes who once called England home, even though they didn't call it England. Then come the Romans, then the Saxons. Slowly but surely England begins to take shape, though it will still not be called that for a couple more centuries. When we finally see Athelstan he is doing his thang, humbling kings, conquering their lands, demanding loyalty.

But this would not have been possible for him without the equally heavy lifting done by his grandfather decades earlier.

Not until my fave, Alfred the Great, came along would the stage even be set for this to happen. It was through his uniting of several of the individual kingdoms - Wessex, Mercia, East Anglia, etc. - that Athelstan could stand on his shoulders and after this terribly violent battle, truly declare himself the King of a united England.

So, why is this battle not more well-known?

After all, for generations to come, it was simply referred to as the "great battle". Everyone would know what you were talking about with this reference. Yet today, so many have no idea it ever occurred, or what its significance is.

Part of the problem is, the location of the battle is unknown, though great care has gone into locating it and the author makes an incredibly compelling case here for his theory. I do have to admit though that I have not read other books on the subject. Even so, the author spends time in the Appendix laying out why he disagrees with the theories of other historians. This is not done in a malicious kind of way, but he points out things that don't make sense with what we know, or don't fit the pattern of evidence. I appreciate how thorough he is with the material.

Once you learn about how truly massive this battle was, the logistics that must have been involved, it feels a bit overwhelming. We are talking about Athelstan and his army standing against his enemies - an alliance that would never have come together were it not for their mutual hatred of Athelstan. In fact, these allies had previously spent a good bit of time fighting one another in previous years at various times. But they figured that the only way to defeat Athelstan, to stop him from taking over every last inch of the island, was to band together. Leading the Vikings out of Dublin was their chief, the famous Analf. Coming from Scotland was King Constantine, and rounding out the trio was King Owain of Strathclyde. These men were seasoned leaders and accustomed to fierce fighting. it is no wonder they were confident that by teaming up, they could defeat Athelstan once and for all.

It might sound kind of cheesy, but just think about that for a moment. Seeing these armies come together to form one massive group, pouring from the ships that had to have carried at least two of them there. Seeing the equally massive shield-wall of Athelstan's own army ready for a fight. It's breathtaking.

Even more so when you start thinking about the possible locations this could have occurred, and can place the armies in their respective camps.

So many people are involved in seeking out this location, finding the sight of England's birth. Professional and amateur historians, linguists trying to work out all sorts of possible place-name matches, and of course archaeologists who seek whatever scraps they might find to finally be able to say, "Here, this is the place."

Not so easy to do though, when you consider that the battle took place at some point in 937 AD. The author argues for it occurring later in the year and again, given the evidence he presents, it makes sense.

The author starts where we always must in order to have a basis, and that is with research. He uses the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles and Egil's Saga, as well as the Annals of Ulster. He also makes references to other chronicles and documents as well and even if the details do not all line up 100%, they all agree on the fact that a major battle occurred in 937 AD and untold thousands died. Like any good historian, the author is aware of the biases that each of these sources carries and has to sift through to find what can be proven by other evidence. This is where those linguists come in VERY handy, breaking apart words and putting them back together, determining the meaning then vs now, and so on. I don't envy them in that job, just reading about it was enough for me.

The author determines after a good couple rounds with all the evidence that the most likely location for this all-important battle is on the Wirral Peninsula in North West England. At this time I am not inclined to disagree, though as I said before this is my first book on the subject. Even so, the passion Dr. Livingston feels for the subject, and the obvious time and thought he has poured into trying to find the site is nothing short of extraordinary. He presents his methodology for how he arrived at his conclusions regarding troop movements, likely encampments, the battle itself, and its aftermath.

My only complaint with the book has to do with formatting, something out of the author's control. Not one single numerical value was present, which sometimes made it difficult to assess parts of the author's argument. Every value, from troop numbers to the years being discussed, was represented with a ? and it was SUUUUUPER annoying.

Otherwise, this was one I enjoyed quite a bit. I have been lucky so far in that I can never really go wrong with a book about Anglo-Saxons. It is my favorite period of England's history and even after devouring so many books on the subject, I am still learning new things.

Highly recommended.

NetGalley ARC | Hunting the Last Great Pirate: Benito de Soto and the Rape of the Morning Star

 

I received a free digital ARC from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Rating ⭐⭐⭐

A book that I anticipated to breeze through because, HELLOOOO! PIRATES! ended up taking me a few months and that was incredibly disappointing. I just could not get into this book.

It has all the makings of a fantastic story - an unarmed Quaker vessel carrying a couple dozen men, women, and children traveling in a protected convoy, on its way to pick up injured British soldiers and return them home. Unfortunately the ship also contained heavy crates of recovered treasures, which slowed the ship down considerably, making it a prime target for the likes of Benito de Soto or any other pirate captain with a sharp eye out for plunder that day.

As soon a de Soto and his men had taken what they wanted from the ship after executing the captain and crew, they locked the survivors in the hold and set the ship on fire. They fled with their spoils to Spain.

De Soto returned to his former village in Galicia, Spain, to bury his portion of the stolen treasure. He then set out for Gibraltar to sell other items he'd stolen. Bad move on his part, since the British still controlled Gibraltar at that time and he was recognized, despite using forged documents claiming a different identity. De Soto was arrested and put on trial, despite circumstantial evidence at best and no eyewitnesses who could definitely say that they saw him commanding the pirate crew. Even so, he was convicted and executed by hanging in the early 1830s. Nearly 100 years later, the court was proven correct when, in 1926, excavations and renovations in Galicia uncovered the treasure de Soto had buried there before heading off to Gibraltar.

Now, you might be wondering how it was possible for de Soto to even be arrested for his attack on the Morning Star, considering his men set it on fire and left everyone for dead. Turns out, due to one incredibly fearless woman in particular, she was able to lead the others into figuring a way out and miraculously, the Morning Star slowly but surely made its way to port. Word spread rapidly about what had transpired.

Yet, after all of that, still only three stars and I'll tell you why - it was not an exciting book. It was beyond dry in the telling of it and I could not force myself to keep reading for very long periods at a time. I don't understand it, as the story is captivating. As someone who primarily reads non-fiction, I tend to love books that others consider dry, and I find them absolutely riveting. Yet, not so with this one.

This was an absolutely horrific account of the violence and cruelty meted out by pirates across the globe. It is not the charming silliness of Jack Sparrow and his motley crew, and one should not expect that in reading about real pirates - vicious and merciless hunters who had no qualms about killing anyone they chose. But even so, I expected that story to still be engaging. The story lulled at times, especially in the aftermath.

Overall I would not say this is a bad book or that you should avoid it. There is much information here about the incident itself, de Soto's capture/trial/execution, the realities of life at sea in the 19th century. Just understand going in that if you are looking for Jack Sparrow, you will definitely not find him here.

Prime First Reads | The Darkest Flower

 


Rating ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

I am so pleased to announce that a Prime First Reads book this month did not suck! In fact, this book was deliciously twisty.

I love unreliable narrators and I wouldn't necessarily call Kira that because she is very upfront with the reader about who she is, but she is definitely a sociopath.

I like that the book was told in alternating perspectives: Kira's and Alison Barton's, the attorney she hires to defend her.

The budding romance between Alison and her opposing council added a touch of sweetness to this dark story. Not that the story needed to have anything sweet added to it, but it was enough without going overboard.

I knew fairly early on who the wanna-be killer was, but I didn't know the how or why. As it turns out, I didn't know who the intended victim actually was. That made for an insanely malicious twist I was not expecting but should have.

Character development was well-done, even the secondary characters. None of the PTA moms blended together, they all had their own voices and stood out. The author did a great job in shining a spotlight on every single one who had the motive and opportunity - and access to the means - to attempt to murder a fellow PTA Mom.

It is a lightweight in terms of the legalese and courtroom time, which was fine with me. Definitely not a legal thriller if that is what you are looking for.

Kira remains intriguing. She's a terrible person, no question about it. She has quite a bit of depth though, and is incredibly well-developed. We see quickly how her childhood shaped her and her outlook. She has no issues whatsoever with going after what she thinks her children deserve, all while internally complaining about them. She will not only push boundaries, but she walks confidently up to them with a sledgehammer and smashes them to pieces.

This is book one in a new series, so I may be looking for others in the future. Hopefully they live up to this one!

NetGalley ARC | The Girl Least Likely

 

I received a free digital ARC from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Rating ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

I know what you're thinking, "What is Sarah doing, reading YA that is not a thriller?!?!"

Blame Lindsi for that, but I LOVE THIS BOOK. She posted about it a while back and I thought the premise sounded like a lot of fun. I didn't think I would be approved, in all honesty, because my NetGalley profile is allllll about non-fiction, with splashes of love for Karen McManus and Courtney Summers thrown in.

Yet, here we are.

Gretchen is our protagonist, and is a sucker for a good rom-com. She soon finds herself living out well-known tropes from said rom-coms:

1. She's suddenly falling hard for her BFF Samuel.
2. An impromptu makeover and (underage) night out at a bar with her sister and cousin.
3. The hot mysterious guy she meets at the bar.
4. Leading a double life doing stand-up so Gretchen can find out who she is and what she wants out of life.

Gretchen is a character who is easy to root for as she stumbles through her real-life movie, trying to figure things out. She is the youngest of three and has not always felt like she fits in, even within her family. They love her dearly, there's no doubt about that, but Gretchen needs to create a space for herself to be who she truly is - once she discovers that. She feels like less effort went into her upbringing than her siblings that came before her, and Gretchen thinks on this a lot. I do like the way that this aspect of the story was wrapped up. Gretchen is helped out along the way by a wide variety of characters who are wonderfully developed and each stand out on their own at different points.

Despite there being a few different possibilities of who Gretchen would end up with, that was not the focal point of the story and I appreciated that. Gretchen didn't need a boyfriend to define her. She defined herself, and ended up with the guy who best fit into her life in the right way. I did kind of guess who the lucky guy would be, but that did not diminish my enjoyment of the story at all.

There was an interesting little twist I did not see coming, and in part it lead to the unraveling of Gretchen's life as Sabrina, the stand-up comic. it was not something out of left field that felt out of place, but something that made sense. I appreciate that the author took the story in a different direction than I was expecting with that part of the story. There is nothing cookie-cutter about this YA novel at all. Seeing Gretchen grow in her time as Sabrina, and how she used jokes and humor to figure her life out, added to the charm. Being part of the stand-up comic contest gave Gretchen the freedom to express herself in ways she did not feel comfortable doing so around her family and even her friends. I really thought this was a clever way to move the character development along and was a unique way to do this.

I also enjoyed the fact that even secondary characters were well-developed. We meet the fellow comics Gretchen is competing against and get to hear some of their sets as well. This worked really well also, each character felt real and left their own imprint on the story in simple ways.

This book is fun and funny and I enjoyed every minute of it.

Highly, highly recommended.

Book Review | The Girls Are All So Nice Here


Rating ⭐

This book is stupid and terrible and I fucking hated it. It's full of stupid and mean people, doing stupid and mean things to each other.

I forced myself to keep reading through the boring sludge that comprises approximately 80% of the book in order to see if I was right about who was behind it all and I was. But the reveal itself was also stupid and boring. I should've have DNF-ed and saved myself some brain cells.

If you still want to read this one then stop here because spoilers abound.

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The only genuinely kind person in the entire book dies - is murdered - because the two main characters are fucking horrible people. But we will get to that in a minute.

I was really interested in this one after reading the premise, despite the stupid names of said main characters.

Ambrosia "Amb" Wellington and Sloan "Sully" Sullivan. Why the nicknames included, as if they're important? Their nicknames are not important. 

Ambrosia is a stupid name for a stupid person  in this stupid book.

While we are on the topic of stupid names, here is a stupid name combination that also caused me to roll my eyes so hard I thought they might roll right on out of my head: the nice girl who died is named Flora. Her sister's name is Poppy. 

Because, of course.

Both of these names are great on their own. But, COME ON?! SISTERS NAMED FLORA AND POPPY? WHYYYYYYYYYYYYYY?!

I will refer to the terrible main characters by their stupid nicknames because that is mainly how they are referred to in the book.

Amb and Sully are described as former best friends, but that's also stupid. Sully is a psychopath who does not care about anyone but herself and discards people when they no longer amuse her or do her bidding. Amb had this insane desperation to be liked and became the perfect little puppet for Sully. This was not a real friendship. Amb herself is pretty terrible though too, because she is a willing participant, so fuck 'em both.

Theirs is the very definition of a toxic friendship, but Amb quickly became an all-too-willing participant in Sully's mindfuck games. She wanted to blame Sully, kept saying Sully was so charming, she could make anyone do anything. Yet Amb is just as much of a psycho, in a different way.

The story alternates between now-ish (2017) and their freshman year in college, in 2007. Amb keeps getting emails about the reunion, and information on events. Only later does the dumbass realize the emails she and Sully were getting were not from Wesleyan, but from a Gmail account. She discovers this after mentioning the email updates in a group at the reunion and everyone looks at her like she's a moron, because none of them have gotten any emails, they have all used the itinerary that they were given when they arrived - the same fucking itinerary mentioned for Amb to pick up when she signed in.

I don't mind unlikeable main characters. I love a good unreliable narrator almost more than anything. But Amb was not this. She was just a horrible person and there was no reason for WHY.

In fact, there is no reason ever given for why Sully is so terrible to begin with. We are told she is charming and can make anyone do anything, but how is this possible? Whenever we see her, she is being terrible. Zero charm at all. All she does is party and drink and do drugs and steal guys' phones to mess with them and mess around with any guy who is marginally attractive. Yet somehow she passes all her classes and stays in school. I have no idea how, but it happens.

Other girls in the story are mean too, but to a lesser extent because Sully overshadows them all. And there is no explanation of why for them either.

There is nothing redeeming about Amb or Sully, even as adults. In fact, they're even worse as adults, if that were even possible - because they are STILL TERRIBLE PEOPLE.

Amb is married to Adrian, who is a few years younger than her. We know he is hot, and a bartender, and never finished college, but was a bigtime slut when he was there. He wants to have lots of babies and loves Amb a whole lot. He is just as flat as everyone else. They have no chemistry and I have no idea why he is there, except to be able to divorce her in the end, when she is pregnant, so he can raise their child himself and marry Poppy. Or whatever.

Amb, on the other hand, does not want babies, lies to him about stopping her birth control pills, never tells him of this huge secret from college where her ROOMMATE DIED, and basically hides who she is for the entirety of their marriage.

I felt so terribly for Flora. She is trusting and caring and for some reason this made Amb hate her. Mainly it comes from Amb's self-esteem being so fucking low, I guess from high school when she wasn't cool enough or whatever. Sully is apparently the epitome of cool, but really she is just Regina George on steroids. (Side note: I love the movie Mean Girls and it is fantastic. And actually redeems not-so-great people.)

The pacing was fucking terrible. Slow-burn thrillers are one thing, but good God, this was just TEDIOUS.

I wanted to DNF it a lot because it was so slow and boring and NOTHING WAS EVER HAPPENING. But I also wanted to know if I was right about who was seeking revenge, so I slogged my way through. Unfortunately the reveal was pretty boring too (though I was right, it was Poppy!) and then suddenly the book was over.

Sully and Amb are so poorly developed. There is nothing about their backgrounds, other than Sully was sent to Spence because her mom couldn't handle her, or something? I don't even remember. And Amb talks about saving up money in high school for a designer purse, just to belong.

So maybe Sully really is just a sociopath who likes to fuck with everyone all the time? Because we never get any idea as to why she acts the way she does. As Cordelia once said to Buffy in the series premier, "What is your childhood trauma?!"

But then what does that make Amb? She goes along with everything because she does not want to lose Sully, but her own thoughts are just as twisted and fucked-up. She hates Flora and practically bathes in the misery she causes with the texts she sent from Kevin's phone - AFTER Amb fucked him in the bathroom at a party. In that time, Sully had made her way over to their dorm and killed Flora. Nice, huh?

OH! And Flora went out one night with Amb and Sully, and ends up being raped. It was heartbreaking, because Flora is so broken by it. She feels terrible and guilty because she thinks she has cheated on her boyfriend (the one who ends up with Amb in the bathroom) and she doesn't necessarily know if it was rape, because she didn't say no. But she sure as hell didn't say yes, which makes it rape. It's also revealed by Poppy in the end that she was pregnant due to the rape. She had never had sex with her boyfriend, there was no other possible father. I keep thinking about her line at the end of the chapter, "I didn't want to do that" and it makes me so fucking angry for her, over and over and over.

This book is an utterly insane waste of time - and money if you were thinking of buying it. If you still want to read it, do yourself a favor and get it from the library.

In the end Adrian leaves Amb at the reunion and says he wants a divorce and she tells him she is pregnant. He leave anyway. Poppy comes in and kills Sully with a knife from Amb's kitchen, then hands the knife to Amb. Poppy starts screaming and  party-goers rush into the room to save her. Sully's dead, Amb goes to prison for life, Poppy is making moves on Adrian a year later as he is now a single dad taking care of baby Jane.

I mean, whatever. This book is trash, the characters are trash, everyone is mean and stupid and I can't think of a single person I would recommend this too. Maybe someone I don't like. But even that feels mean.

Quick Thoughts | Anne Perry and the Murder of the Century


Rating ⭐⭐⭐

Pauline Parker and Juliet Hulme are terrible people who should still be locked up for their horrific crime - the brutal murder of Parker's mother.

Unfortunately these arrogant, self-centered, conceited, murderous fiends were in jail for less than six years.

And by the way, Juliet Hulme might be more familiar to you if you have read any novels by Anne Perry.

Yep, Anne Perry.

Gross. I would never in a million years give her one single penny.

The book itself is thorough and well-researched.

These two should be rotting in prison for the rest of their lives.

Saturday, May 29, 2021

NetGalley ARC | The Lost Pianos of Siberia


I received a free digital ARC from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Rating ⭐⭐⭐

I'm not quite sure what I was expecting with this one. I saw 'Siberia' and the cover and requested it without another thought. But as a result, I am equally as unsure about how to review this book.

The author's journey through Siberia on a quest to seek out these long lost treasures. Not exactly what one thinks about when they hear 'Siberia'. Instead one thinks of the Gulag, exile, and mass, unmarked graves.

The author was on the hunt for a different kind of history altogether - though Russian history itself is a main character. You can't have the histories of these instruments in such a bleak place without context of what makes the juxtaposition so beautiful at times.

Yet even when the travel is about pianos, at the same time it really isn't. There is just as much, and more, about the people and their times, culture, lives. The book is basically in chronological order from pre-Soviet, to Soviet, to post-Soviet. From there it is also divided up by region as the author treks to and fro across the massive continent. A stop in Yekaterinburg where the Romanovs came to their violent end is also on the agenda as she travels through the region - and it came to be that these parts I was almost most interested in than the piano search. These slices of life that people are carved out, those who willingly live here, I could not get enough of those passages. I am a Minnesota girl through and through, I will take winter over any other season no contest and yet Siberia...there's no way. Even I could not live there. I have so much respect for those who can, and do, continue to make their homes in one of the harshest climates on earth.

The author details how pianos came to be so beloved in Russia, and Siberia specifically. From large and grand pianos, to sturdier but simple uprights, she seeks out as many as she can find. That these instruments even survived the trip to and through Siberia to begin with is a testament to those that loved them. That some survive still, so many centuries to decades after they were constructed, is another.

Recommended for those with an interest in the history of Russia.

NetGalley ARC | The Nine: The True Story of a Band of Women Who Survived the Worst of Nazi Germany


I received a free digital ARC from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Rating ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Absolute must-read, right off the bat. I could not put this one down.

The Nine is a book about doing what is right, no matter the cost; about resilience and survival and the bonds of friendship. I would like to think we could all be this brave, but I also hope we never have to find out.

Here the author tells the story of her great aunt Helene's life during World War II and her fellow resistance fighters who would escape the clutches of the Nazis and make an incredibly painful and miraculous journey across Germany and finally return home to Paris.

Prior to their individual captures by the Gestapo, the women did not know one another. All were Resistance fighters who did what needed to be done, because they knew what was happening to the Jewish people was not right. These women did it all - hiding Jewish children, smuggling weapons, sheltering Ally agents who parachuted in behind enemy lines, and more. Anything and everything they could do to fight the Nazis, they did. As they were rounded up and interrogated, tortured, nearly killed, still they did not do anything to endanger the lives of fellow fighters.

After the Gestapo was through with them, the women were sent to various prisons in France where they began to find one another and forge friendships that would ensure their survival - even when things were at their bleakest. The women came to know one another in prison, or in transit from one to another,  then in RavensbrÜck, and finally in Leipzig (a sub-camp of Buchenwald). As the war came to an end and the Nazis were determined to hide their crimes, they marched their prisoners farther into German territory. It would be during that death march that Helene and her friends made their escape.

I could not put this book down. I was captivated from start to finish by this incredible story and the beauty of powerful friendships that came from horrifying events. To not only survive themselves, but to hold one another up at various points when one or another was ready to give up, is astounding. These young women, ranging in ages from 20-29, were determined to make it home and did so due to quick-thinking, courage bordering on insanity at times, and a bit of luck. 

Oh, and it was on foot the entire time.

The author does not shy away from accounts of the torture the women were subjected to and I admit to skimming those parts. However, I don't feel they were gratuitous - I am just a baby with a weak stomach/gag reflex. Yet even within these scenes, the author is careful, treating the subjects with the utmost respect. I think this is important. The farther we get away from The Holocaust, the easier it is for many to put away the images of the horrors that were inflicted on so many.

An aspect of the story from after the war that sparked my interest relates to the idea of the trauma that afflicted the next generation - the children of those who survived. So many survivors remained silent about what they had seen and heard. The author discusses transmission studies done in the 70s on these second-generation survivors and how intergenerational trauma came to be, and how it impacted the children of survivors.. I will definitely be seeking out more information on that topic.

Books like this are so important. There are so many women who took huge risks to do what they knew was right, and we will never know all of their names and faces. While I would love to know more details about their work, that is already all but lost to history. Women especially need to be recognized for all that they did to impact the outcome of the war.

Upon returning to their homes, the women find that France has already moved on. By the time they do make it back across the front, Paris has been liberated for nearly a year. These women become the reminder of something terrible that everyone else would rather forget.

Helene
Zaza
Nicole
Lon
Guigui
Zinka
Josee
Jacky
Mena

We will never forget you.

Highly, highly recommended.