Worlds Afire

Worlds Afire

(Sorry, I don’t have first lines for this one. It’s a book told in poetry form.)

For many years (*cough* eleven of them *cough*), this book was on my to-read shelf on Goodreads. I’m super interested in random, weird bits of history and this, about the Hartford circus fire that absolutely changed circuses forever after that, was certainly on my radar. But I just never got around to it until I specifically put it on hold at the library. Twice. (Once, I never went to pick it up…)

It’s summer 1944 and World War II has been on everyone’s minds. So why not go to the circus and lift a few spirits? Hundreds are crammed under the Big Top, waiting for the show to begin. Minutes later, a fire breaks out and takes 167 lives and injuring 500 others. This lyrical story looks at the points of view of many people who were there, those who survived…and those who didn’t.

This lyrical story is super short (I think I read the whole thing in about 20-25 minutes at most) but each poem comes from a different person connected to the circus or the events. An elephant trainer, a “freak”, young children eager to see the Big Top show, parents, police, etc. Everyone has the chance to voice a little of what they saw and what happened. The story does get a bit…gory isn’t really the right word…disturbing, I guess. There are references to how unidentifiable some of the bodies are, but otherwise the story isn’t graphic about deaths or anything. It’s actually shelved in my library’s children’s section, not YA or anything. It’s meant for children, so it does stay away from the worst of all that.

It’s short, but it’s tragic and makes you really think about what it was like for those who were there.

Alex and Eliza (Alex & Eliza, #1)

Alex and Eliza (Alex & Eliza, #1)

First Lines: Like a latter-day Greek temple, the Schuyler family mansion sat atop a softly rounded hill outside Albany.

Honestly, I don’t know why it took me so long to read this. Like most people, I adored Hamilton. I’ve read other Alexander and Eliza stories, but this one was always on the back end for me. Maybe because I haven’t had the best track record with Melissa de la Cruz, but I was still willing to try it.

It’s 1777 and the Schuylers are throwing a ball. One of the oldest and grandest families in New York, the Schuylers are proud to be a founding family and even prouder of their three daughters: the witty Angelica, the dazzling Peggy, and the patriotic Eliza. When they receive word that Alexander Hamilton, George Washington’s right hand man, will be at the party, Eliza can barely contain her excitement. If only he weren’t bringing bad news with him. Alex can’t believe his luck. From his humble beginnings to a guest at the Schuylers’ ball, Alex loves being in such exalted company. And when Alex meets Eliza, well…

For me, it was…slow. This is in part because I’m already so familiar with their story. The beginning sets up a LOT of their backstories, how Eliza’s from a wealthy patriotic family, how Alexander was a penniless orphan when he came to America, things like that. After they met, things took off a bit more because there wasn’t so much exposition anymore. However, near the end of the story, I felt like the pace slowed down again.

What I enjoyed about this was the tension between Alex and Eliza early in their courtship. Alex is smitten with this defiant, beautiful young woman, but Eliza only sees in him the man who is court-martialing her father for the fall of Ticonderoga. So that tension, while it lasted, was humorous and fun.

They are good characters, both of them. Eliza’s patriotism shines through, as does Alex’s ambition. Other characters are also quite fun, like the ones we’re familiar with from the musical (Peggy, Angelica, Laurens). Perhaps my favorite, though, was Aunt Gertrude, the aunt Eliza stays with in Morristown, NJ. Oh my, was she fun. And because I didn’t know her from the musical, her character was entirely new to me and quite interesting.

Truly, I do really think my biggest problem with this was that I knew too much already. There just wasn’t as much of a thrill for me to be reading about them going through some of these things (particularly that ending…) because I already knew more or less how things would turn out. I knew the characters and their particular quirks along with the ultimate fates of many of them.

Still, I won’t say I didn’t enjoy seeing another take on these two. It just wasn’t what I hoped for.

The Viscount Made Me Do It (Clandestine Affairs, #2)

The Viscount Made Me Do It (Clandestine Affairs, #2)

First Lines: Thomas Ellis, Viscount Griffin, was a haunted man.

I read the first book in this series earlier this year, I think, and…I didn’t love it. But I liked the diversity it brought and how the characters were interesting. I just didn’t care for the plot of it. So I thought I’d give the author another chance in the follow up that brought back the tortured Viscount Griffin we briefly met in the previous book.

Hanna Zaydan has fought to become the finest bonesetter in London. She’s worked hard for it, even if most people scoff at her for being a woman, a woman of color, a bonesetter in general, or all three. When she meets the enigmatic Thomas, she knows he’s hiding more than he’s sharing, but with each appointment, she finds herself more and more drawn to him. Thomas, Viscount Griffin, has been dogged by rumors that he killed his family for years. More than a decade later, a tip about the killer’s identity leads him to the beautiful bonesetter. Griff is convinced Hanna is a fraud, but something about her makes him feel things he didn’t think he was capable of anymore. Can Hanna not only set bones but also mend hearts?

This was better than the first book. I liked this a lot more.

Hanna is a bonesetter, which is already a strike against her. Factor in that she’s female and Arab and she’s virtually a pariah to anyone outside of her family. I loved how she knew what she wanted to do with her career and she wasn’t going to let anyone tell her she couldn’t. She was well trained and that was all that mattered. I also liked Griff, who we met in the last book. He has a tortured past and he’s working on healing from the murders of his parents 14 years ago that he blames himself for. Together, they made for an interesting couple.

The story is a bit of a slow burn. Like, there are initial sparks, but because of their backgrounds, they try to force it down. Then they become friends and try to deny that it’s more than that. It was kind of cute how their friendship formed and how it grew into something more. I liked that it built that way.

I still really like the diversity in this series/story. I liked seeing Hanna’s family and their traditions and culture. It really added something special to the story and to their love.

Cute story. I like that everything in this series seems to be about people defying those around them to do what they want with their lives.

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.

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.