Quantcast

The Last Night in London by Karen White

Source: the publisher
Hardcover, 480 pgs.
I am an Amazon Affiliate

The Last Night in London by Karen White is an epic WWII novel with dual narratives set in during the Blitz and in 2019. Young, Yorkshire girl Eva Harlow, whose run from her life of poverty where her mother is a laundress and her father is a drunk, meets Precious Dubose, a young Tennessean, by happenstance at the train station and become like sisters as they navigate early 1940s London as models. Meanwhile, Madison Warner in 2019 is tasked with writing an article for British Vogue about Precious Dubose and the fashions in war time. She’s struggling to live life even as she assumes she’ll have a short life.

“Pushing herself against a wall, as if she could hide from the noise and the terror, she closed her eyes. Moonlight Sonata. Someone — she couldn’t remember who, in an underground club perhaps — had whispered that that was what he called the music of the nightly bombings.” (pg. 2)

Eva Harlow is a woman eager to reinvent herself. Her mother has lived her life under the hands of a drunk husband, but when he’s sent to jail, her other moves away from their home and hopes for a new life. This pushes Eva to seek out her own way and become someone more than an uneducated Yorkshire girl. She drops her real name and morphs into an elegant model, learning new languages from fellow models and reading books and newspapers to become more educated. Precious becomes like a sister to her and they work so well together and are often mistaken for one another because they are both slim, blond, and elegant.

Madison Warner travels to London to write an article on Precious, who is now nearly 100 years old, and the man she’s pushed out of her mind will be sharing a flat with her and Precious. Colin is a dreamy Brit who still holds a candle for her, even as she’s pushed him away when she left Oxford.

This book is epic. Karen White has outdone herself with these characters and the story. I was along for the entire ride. I couldn’t put this book down. What happened to Eva and her RAF pilot Graham St. John? Why does Precious have all of Eva’s things? What is she hiding? And what is Alex Grof’s role in this?

As for Madison and Colin, there is the navigation of past hurts, as well as the mystery they are both so eager to solve. Colin’s nana Precious, though not by blood, loves him like her own and vice versa, while Madison is a distant relation, according to a genealogy project. As they unravel the mystery, will they be closer than before? Will Maddie get a grip and take life by the horns and just live life to the fullest? Will Precious help them both move forward?

There is so much beauty in this novel. There are family bonds, friendships that become like family bonds, romance, and intrigue. The Last Night in London by Karen White will capture your imagination and hold you hostage as you whisk yourself around London’s streets during the Blitz and immerse yourself in Precious’ memories of fashion and so much more.

RATING: Cinquain

Cabinet of Wrath: A Doll Collection by Tara Campbell

Source: GBF
Paperback, 98 pgs.
I am an Amazon Affiliate

Cabinet of Wrath: A Doll Collection by Tara Campbell is a short story collection of disturbing and horrifying stories about dolls and other playthings. Each story breathes life into Barbie’s friends, teddy bears with guns, and so many other body-less beings. These nine stories may seem like innocent looks into the lives of our childish playthings, but these toys are not childish and they are far from innocent. Campbell weaves her tales with such precise language, you’re swept up into this horrifying world in which rape and voodoo have serious, life-threatening consequences and the phrase “let them eat cake” emerges from an entirely different context.

From “The Box”: “Miss Holly raises empty palms. ‘At this point motives are immaterial. All we can manage now are the consequences.'” (pg. 4)

The opening story, “The Box,” finds a number of dolls languishing in the darkness not only of the physical place, but the emotional space. They are unsure why they have been removed from their children and why they can no longer be in the playroom, but once the consequences of events that “happened to them” and were “beyond their control” are revealed, the parallels between these dolls and many young women become clear. The uncertainty, the fear, the anxiety, the shaming. It is all here in this short story, and if it makes you uncomfortable, it should. It should also make you rethink your actions and reactions to young women who find themselves similarly situated, especially when things beyond their control occur. Sympathy, rather than judgment, should be given, along with a helping hand.

Campbell’s stories are haunting and unsettling. They will leave readers looking for the flashlight to not only provide themselves with a sense of hope, but to also reveal some harsh truths. Cabinet of Wrath: A Doll Collection by Tara Campbell is a delight in horror and twisted storytelling that shouldn’t be missed.

The last story I read that had dolls in it was hugely disappointing. You can check out my review of The Birthing House.

RATING: Cinquain

About the Author:

With a BA in English, an MA in German, and an MFA in Creative Writing, Tara Campbell has a demonstrated aversion to money and power. Originally from Anchorage, Alaska, she has also lived in Oregon, Ohio, New York, Germany and Austria. She currently lives in Washington, D.C.

She is the recipient of the following awards from the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities: the 2016 Larry Neal Writers’ Award in Adult Fiction, the 2016 Mayor’s Arts Award for Outstanding New Artist, and Arts and Humanities Fellowships for 2018 – 2022. She is also a 2017 Kimbilio Fellow and winner of the 2018 Robert Gover Story Prize.

Tara earned her MFA from American University in 2019, and is a fiction editor at Barrelhouse. She teaches fiction with American University, the Writer’s Center, Politics and Prose, and the National Gallery of Art’s Writing Salon. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

The Storyteller: Tales of Life and Music by Dave Grohl (audio)

Source: Purchased
Audiobook, 10+ hours
I am an Amazon Affiliate

The Storyteller: Tales of Life and Music by Dave Grohl, narrated by the author, is a delight by itself. If you want to here Grohl talk about his life as written in the book with some riffs and musical interludes, you should pick up this audio.

There’s a lot of unbelievable moments in his life, and I think his ability to just “go for it” and say “yes” to any opportunity really helped him become as successful as he is. I do think some will be disappointed about the lack of gossip about Nirvana and Courtney Love, etc., but most will have to recall that Nirvana was already a band for three years when Grohl joined. He’s spent a very small amount of his career with that band. This is a memoir about Grohl’s life in music and life.

I don’t need to say much else, because I already reviewed the book.

RATING: Cinquain

From Ashes to Heiresses by Renata McMann and Summer Hanford (audio)

Source: Audible
Audiobook, 1+ hrs.
I am an Amazon Affiliate

From Ashes to Heiresses by Renata McMann and Summer Hanford, narrated by Catherine Bilson, is a delightful short story that occurs after Mr. Darcy’s unexpected and terrible proposal to Elizabeth Bennet at Hunsford, but in this story, Longbourn has burned down. Elizabeth and Jane are the only surviving members of the Bennet family, and they are forced to live with their relatives.

Bilson is a precise narrator, with perfect pronunciation and inflection. However, her narrative voice for Jane and Elizabeth is very similar, which makes it harder to discern who is speaking, especially if you are engaged in tasks other than listening to the audio. Her inflections for Mr. Darcy are spot on, however, making her rendition of him a standout.

McMann and Hanford have created a delightful alternative for our Austen characters, and while the romance is quickly tied up at the end, it works well with the characterizations early on in the story and the storyline. From Ashes to Heiresses by Renata McMann and Summer Hanford, narrated by Catherine Bilson, was a delightful distraction.

RATING: Quatrain

Woodrow on the Bench by Jenna Blum

While I didn’t officially sign up for Book Journey‘s event, First Book of the Year, here it is:

Woodrow on the Bench: Life Lessons from a Wise Old Dog by Jenna Blum is a love letter to a beloved companion who provided Blum with not only companionship and love, but also with lessons in patience, humility, and so much more. Woodrow, named after the former Texas Ranger in Lonesome Dove, was a black lab full of mischief, a lover of food (esp. carrots), and energy.

Woodrow is much like our husky and her love of carrots and the outside, but he’s also like my keeshond who loved food so much, you’d often find him in the fridge, stealing pork chops from tables, and so on. Blum’s memoir also brought me back to my college days in Boston. I knew exactly where she was at all times, and the struggles of crossing Commonwealth Ave. are real, and I miss the old Ritz, now the Taj. It has been a very long time since I’ve been back, and during these pandemic years, it allowed me to revisit some places along the way. And for some reason, winter always reminds me of Boston and it’s bone-chilling cold … and the snow! Hence, this became my first read of 2022.

“If I try to cross Commonwealth Avenue at the wrong time or emerge from between parked cars instead of using the crosswalk, there’s an excellent chance I’ll be mowed over. Usually by somebody in a BMW, which I have long since decided — forgive me, Beamer drivers — is an acronym for asshole.”

Blum’s narrative carries the reader on an emotional journey with highs and lows, and most of us know that Woodrow is on the decline at his advanced age. While she does characterize his breathing at one point as “more Darth Vader than usual,” we know that these moments are scary. Woodrow is endearing and he becomes like our own pet through these pages, as we laugh and cry alongside Blum. She’s losing one of her most important anchors, not to be outdone by the equally devastating losses of both her parents.

I found so much of myself in these pages — I’m stubborn like Blum and want to do things the more you tell me they cannot be done. (I’m not sure who I inherited this trait from, honestly, because both my parents shy away from action and conflict. It’s in the genes somewhere.) But when it comes to saving a beloved family member (yes, pets are family), the impossible is just that.

Woodrow on the Bench: Life Lessons from a Wise Old Dog by Jenna Blum is not only about the loss of a family pet or the lessons Blum learned along the way, it is a microcosm of what we’ve forgotten about humanity – that people can be good and do good. It’s shown time and again when strangers help Blum with her dog as he struggles to walk or when she’s struggling to cross one of the busiest thoroughfares in Boston with her old dog. And she, like us, is “stunned” every time by this compassion. There is something ultimately beautiful that comes from all the sadness in these pages, and we, as readers, are better for it.

RATING: Cinquain