This Light Between Us

This Light Between Us: A Novel of World War II

First Lines: He was seventeen the first time he saw her. A February dusk in 1943 on the cold plains of Manzanar. The snowcapped Sierra Nevada mountains loomed in the distance, stoic and stark.

As someone who teaches the Holocaust in school every year through novels, I’m always on the lookout for anything new and different. This book, which make a young French Jewish girl and a Japanese-American boy penpals before and during WWII, seemed like it could be a really good addition to my novel list. I needed to read it.

In 1935, when 10-year-old Alex Maki is given a French pen pal for class, he’s disgusted to learn that Charlie Levy is a girl. Despite his reluctance to talk to her, letters fly across the Atlantic between the two of them. They share their hopes for the future and friendship with each other. Until Pearl Harbor and the growing Nazi persecution of Jews force both of them into situations that will make them confront the darker sides of humanity. From the plains of Manzanar to the horrors of Auschwitz and the brutality of European battlefields, they can only hold on to two things: the letters between them and the hope their friendship brings them.

The thing that drew me to this book is how original it is. There are so many Holocaust books out there, but it was really interesting to see one that tied it to Japanese internment camps in the US. It opens up a conversation and I like that.

And honestly, that became my favorite thing about this story. Alex is our narrator, so it heavily favors his experiences in the internment camps, but he is desperate for news of Charlie in France and we learn how that trickle of information came through, how he kept up with the events in Europe to learn what may be happening to her.

It’s a very realistic story. It doesn’t shy away from casual racism or legal rights violations or the worst parts of human nature. It doesn’t shy away from death or greed or brutality. At times, it’s quite painful. But in a story like this, one that is a horrific black eye on American history and covers even worse abroad, that painful realism is necessary to understanding how wrong it was.

Alex, as a character, is charming and naive in the beginning. He doesn’t understand why the government’s doing this to them and why his neighbors and friends are suddenly pretending they don’t have history. We also see so much of him come out in his letters to Charlie and how their friendship grows over time.

My only problem with this book is that the beginning is incredibly slow. I had such a hard time feeling like the story was going anywhere. The initial few chapters are almost entirely letters sent by 9- and 10-year-olds, which isn’t super interesting. It was necessary for character development, but I did seriously consider just giving up on the book a couple of times when I just wasn’t sure I could slog through more. But I’m glad I stuck with it and pressed on.

It’s a touching story. It’s unique and interesting while still having a whole lot of heart.

Because of Miss Bridgerton (Rokesbys, #1)

Because of Miss Bridgerton (Rokesbys, #1)

First Lines: It wasn’t that Billie Bridgerton was lacking in common sense. On the contrary, she was quite sure that she was one of the most sensible people of her acquaintance. But like any thoughtful individual, she occasionally chose to ignore the little voice of reason that whispered through her mind.

It’s not until I start writing these reviews sometimes that I realize just how all over the place my reading habits are sometimes. Ok, so obviously this was written by the same author of all the Bridgerton books. I thought it would be cool to dive into this series since I like her writing style and it relates to the Bridgertons. (Billie is an aunt to all the Bridgerton children we met in that famous series.)

Everyone expects Billie Bridgerton to marry one of the Rokesby brothers. The families have lived next to each other centuries and Billie has been friends with the boys for her whole life. She was a tomboy, running wild with Edward and Andrew. Either one could be her husband someday, and Billie knows that’s likely to happen. Of course, there’s one Rokesby Billie just can’t tolerate. George, the eldest brother and heir to the earldom. She finds him to be arrogant, stiff, annoying, and he absolutely detests her. But when Billie and George are forced together through a quirk of fate, a new kind of spark flies between them. Soon, they might just discover that the person they can’t live with is the one they can’t live without…

Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t dislike this book. In fact, it was fun to see the previous generation of Bridgertons.

But there was just nothing wow about this one either.

I did rather like Billie. She’s fiery and a tomboy, more capable of running the estate than she is navigating a ballroom. She’s not about to back down from a dare or let anyone put her down. She was fun.

But there wasn’t anything that really made me sit up and take notice of George. He was pretty stereotypical, really. I literally just finished the book and I’m not sure I could tell you any defining trait of his except “future earl.” Pretty much everything about him was how he’s eventually going to have the title. All of his personality revolved around that. So when I see someone as lively as Billie and someone as blah as George…I don’t feel the chemistry.

There were funny moments to the story that I enjoyed. I did have fun reading the weird (absurd) situations Billie kept finding herself in, but so much of the story just seemed disjointed outside of that. There are some subplots that get resolved at the end, but I had to wonder why they were included at all when they only happened over the course of a chapter or two.

Not a bad book, but definitely not the same level of love I had for a few books in the Bridgerton series.

Leap of Faith

Leap of Faith

First Lines: The day had finally arrived. The party was about to begin and we still couldn’t say whether we were more excited or nervous for what was going to unfold.

I don’t often talk too much about nonfiction in this blog, partly because I don’t read it often and partly because what I do choose to read tends to be biographies of George Washington or really niche historical things. But in early 2020, I got swept up in the show Love is Blind, like a lot of people did. And I loved Lauren and Cameron. So one day while I was walking through the library and saw this on the shelf, I had to pick it up.

For those unfamiliar with the show, the idea was that singles would talk to each other through walls and would not see each other for the first time until they became engaged. Lauren and Cameron were two of those contestants. While neither of them truly expected to find love on the show, they are committed to making their marriage work. This book has them telling us our side of the story, from how they got involved with the show to their whirlwind romance to the issues they’ve faced in the early days of their marriage.

I really liked this. Then again, I really liked Lauren and Cameron on the show and every reunion episode since. They always seemed like they had the strongest and best relationship.

This book mostly unfolds as Lauren and Cameron having long-form conversations with us, the readers. In the beginning, they have entire chapters to say their backgrounds and what brought them to the show. But as their stories intertwine, they begin flipping back and forth within the chapter. Sometimes it’s a few paragraphs before the switch, sometimes it’s a few pages.

Lauren and Cameron talk about everything from how to make a connection with people to how to impress the prospective in-laws. They give some behind the scenes details about the show and how they stayed true to themselves throughout the process. I thought it was a really well done combination of reality TV expose and an almost self-help book on relationships while being autobiographical.

These two are just super cute and it’s so cool to read about how their relationship blossomed–and how it all works out day after day.

Sing Me Forgotten

Sing Me Forgotten

First Lines: I am a shadow. A shimmer of black satin. A wraith in the dark.

Sorry I haven’t been updating much lately. There was a death in the family on the day my last post went live and I’ve been trying to adjust since then and find a return to normal. It’s been a process. It’s actually kind of ironic, in that case, that this is the book I’m reviewing first, given its emphasis on memory.

Isla was born with a rare power, one that people fear so much she was supposed to have been killed at birth. When people sings, Isla can manipulate memories. Saved at a young age from death by opera house owner Cyril, she’s lived in the opulent opera house ever since. All he asks is that she uses her powers to keep ticket sales high–and that she stays out of sight. Even now, if she’s seen, it means death for her and her protector. But then she meets Emeric, whose voice is unlike anything she’s ever heard before. She’s drawn to the charming boy whose memories hint at ways she can finally be free. As Isda spends more time with Emeric, she becomes more hopeful about gaining her freedom. But the price of freedom will be higher than she ever could have anticipated…

From the moment I read the blurb, I thought this sounded vaguely like The Phantom of the Opera, a thought that was only confirmed as I read the book. And as a fan of that story, I truly wanted to enjoy this.

And in a lot of ways, I did. I loved the way music was incorporated into the story. I loved the setting (a French-esque fantasy world where memories are currency, so memory is valued above all else). I even liked Isda and her internal conflict of what makes a person a monster. (Ok, let me rephrase my earlier Phantom comment. It’s Phantom mixed with Hunchback. Both set in France, both dealing with deformities, both confining the tragic figure in a place of music and culture, ALL LIKE THIS BOOK.)

For the first half or two thirds of the book, I would have given this a 4 rating. Yes, there were moments of predictability. Yes, there were moments where it was hard to really get a handle on some of the world building. (It’s a relatively short book for a fantasy novel. Things happen quickly with little exposition.) But I generally liked it. It was the last bit of the book that sort of ruined the experience for me. Not that it was bad, exactly. It has honest and probably true to the characters if I’m being honest. It just wasn’t how I wanted things to go. It felt like it dove too far into melodrama and clichés to me. But it did feel like how some of the characters would react, so what can you do?

For a debut fantasy novel, this was really good, even if I didn’t totally buy into the ending. This is definitely an author to watch.

Sunny Song Will Never Be Famous

Sunny Song Will Never Be Famous

First Lines: “Thank you for coming on such short notice, Mr. and Mrs. Song.” Mr. Lyons straightened the slightly askew HEADMASTER plaque on his desk before continuing.

I went on vacation with my boyfriend a few weeks back and I was looking for a very specific kind of book to take with me: something funny and simple and easy to pick up whenever there was a little down time. This looked like it might be just the thing.

Sunny Song has summer goals, namely to snag Rafael Kim as her boyfriend and get 100k followers on social media. What wasn’t on her list? Accidentally filming a PG-13 viral cooking video (#browniegate), which earned her a one-way ticket to social detox camp in Iowa. IOWA. For a MONTH. This up and coming social media star is going to learn how to run a farm, which so does not help her business plans. If she wants to get the future she’s always wanted, she’s going to need a way back to WiFi. But when a few unexpected friendship and one too-cute farm boy show up in her new life, Sunny might have to reconsider how much of her life she wants to spend online…

I will admit that it was funny. Sunny is obsessed with getting more followers and it leads to some…unfortunate incidents. Her family has had enough and ships this city girl (LA) to Iowa for digital detox camp, where she could have jobs like shearing sheep or milking cows. Obviously, this has comedy potential, and it does deliver on the humor. It’s almost over-the-top humor at times, but it was entertaining.

Maybe this is me as a 30 year old talking, but I just thought this story lacked the depth to balance out the humor. Sure, Sunny does have some internal conflicts. But I felt like there were so many dropped plotlines, so many moments where the story jumped around that it was hard to feel like it all connected into anything. I didn’t feel like the story had any real flow.

Now that I’ve said that, I did think the story had some good messages about our relationship with social media. It was interesting to watch Sunny realize just how she was tied to her phone. But again, it was pointed out rather matter-of-factly and not in a way that really let us see Sunny’s transformation as much. I don’t exactly know how I would have improved it, but it all just read a little off to me, like there was too much telling and not enough showing.

It’s not a bad read at all. I thought it was cute and funny, with a lot of flawed characters trying to improve themselves.

Retribution Rails (Vengeance Road, #2)

Retribution Rails (Vengeance Road, #2)

First Lines: There’s a nice stretch of rail between Painted Rock and Gila Bend, and that’s where we’ll take the train.

A while back, I got hold of the first book in this semi-related duology (more on that in a bit). I liked the history in it and the danger, enough that I wanted to check out this one.

Reece Murphy doesn’t want to be an outlaw. Forced to join the infamous Rose Riders because of a strange coin he has in his possession, Reece vows that he’ll find the man who gave it to him and get his revenge. What Reece never expects is that he’ll get his best shot at that thanks to an aspiring female journalist. Reece met Charlotte Vaughn on a botched train robbery, but his interest in her is piqued when she mentions rumors about a gunslinger in Prescott. She could be his ticket to freedom–or the noose. Because Charlotte has a mission of her own, and if she needs to manipulate Reece to get it…so be it. But Charlotte and Reece may not be the only ones out for revenge…

I like this semi-series (the two books take place ten years apart and follow different characters), particularly its depiction of the West. It’s brutal and beautiful. It’s lawless and hopeful in equal measures. People truly are making their own futures, good or bad. It’s a uniquely American story in so many ways.

I liked Charlotte and Reece in this book. I thought they were really different from Kate and Jesse, which was a cool way to put their own twist on the story. Charlotte is an aspiring journalist, even though everyone tells her women can’t be journalists. Reece is known as the Rose Kid, a young man who was forced to join the Rose Riders gang of outlaws. He’s just biding his time until he can get out, but it’s not that easy. Reece is definitely more “street smart” than Charlotte is, but Charlotte had her own skills too. She’s tenacious, for one thing. She doesn’t let anything go.

I love the setting, I love the characters. The plot was mostly good (definitely nothing egregiously wrong with it), it was just that sometimes I felt it was slow or too simple in how it solved problems. Still, it was a good read. I really enjoyed this.