The Lost Vintage

Lost Vintage.jpgAuthor: Ann Mah

Publisher: William Morrow

Release Date: June 18, 2019

Rating: 4.5 Stars

Reviewer: Jessica Higgins

A fantastic story that is not easily put down until it is finished!

Kate has set her life to achieve one goal: become a master of wine.  Given three opportunities to pass the exam, she has already failed twice.  Now she is more focused than ever, but seems to be continually outfoxed by French wine, which happens to be her native homeland even though she hasn’t been there in years.  As the head sommelier at a local San Francisco restaurant, there isn’t as much time as she would hope to dedicate to studying.  But when the restaurant unexpectedly closes its doors, Kate suddenly has time on her hands.  At her mentor’s urging, she reaches out to her cousin in France to see if it would be ok to come for a visit.  As it is time for the grape harvest, he happily agrees and looks forward to seeing her soon.

Being back in France brings back difficult memories.  She and her cousin’s wife were college friends that visited France during a semester abroad.  One thing led to another and her friend stayed behind while she returned home.  Now she is helping clean out the family cellars under the house.  While much of it is junk that has been stored throughout the years, she stumbles upon some photographs in a trunk of a young woman she has never heard about but bears a striking resemblance to herself.  As she begins to pry into the family history, her uncle shuts down the investigation at every turn.  One day, she discovers a hidden cellar behind a false wall that contains numerous bottles of rare wine.  But will this discovery open a door that can never be closed?

This book taught me more about rare wine that I had thought possible.  I had no idea all the different requirements for storing, handling, and more that must be taken into account.  However, this wasn’t the most interesting part of the story.  That was the time slip portion set back in occupied France during World War II.  I love these stories and all that it brings out historically.  There is always more to learn and Mah did a great job on researching this topic.

The character development was spot on as well.  Kate was instantly likable and felt like a close friend, even though she tends to shut people out.  I enjoyed getting to know her better and was really pulling for her relationship to blossom.  All the supporting characters fleshed out great as well.  Nothing felt forced and even though there were some antagonists, it played out like a great story.

There is some very mild language throughout the book, but nothing that would take away from the story.  I recommend this book to people who love time-slip novels concerning World War II and those that just enjoy a great story.

I received a complimentary copy of this title from the publisher.  The views and opinions expressed within are my own.

The Song of the Jade Lily

Jade lilyAuthor: Kristy Manning

Publisher: William Morrow

Release Date: May 14, 2019

Rating: 5 Stars

Reviewer: Jessica Higgins

A brilliant piece of literary work that showcases the Japanese occupation of Shanghai during World War II.

Romy and her family are Jews living in Vienna during the 1930s.  On the night of Kristallnacht, her family realizes that they must flee the country to save their lives, but only she and her parents are able to secure passage on a ship from Italy to Shanghai, known as Paris of the East.  Upon arrival, Romy quickly realizes that Shanghai is very different from anywhere she has ever been.  It is overcrowded with people and separated into many different sections including French, British, and Japanese.  She soon meets another young woman here age named Li Ho.  They form a strong friendship over the next two years, but after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the Japanese occupy Shanghai and begin to rid the area of any anti-Japanese sentiment.  Will this friendship stand the test of a war-torn country?

Jumping ahead several years to 2016, Alexandra Cohen is a very successful commodities trader in London.  But after a bad breakup and learning her grandfather is dying, she quickly returns to Melbourne, Australia.  Alexandra has always been different being part Chinese but has never really known the true story of her birth mother.  Her parents died when she was young, and her grandparents always change the subject when she brings it up.  After her grandfather passes, Alexandra receives an opportunity to work in Shanghai.  She takes it with hopes that maybe she can finally uncover the truth about the adoption of her mother and find her true family.

This has been a great year for historical novels that uncover rarely known facts about World War II.  This book was no exception as I had little knowledge of Jewish refugees living in Shanghai.  I thoroughly appreciated all the research that the author put into this book to bring this era of history to light and how she weaved it into such an intricate story.  The character development of Alexandra throughout the book was fantastic as well.  She grew from being insecure into someone who can seize the moment and get what she wants from life.  There is some very raw emotion throughout the book. There were parts that brought me to tears because of what Romy experienced.  I imagine other readers will feel the same way.

This book really focuses on the power of secrets and the damage that they can do to a family over time.  However, there is also a theme of redemption in the later part of the book.  I enjoyed that the author shared that even when families have secrets, they are not as secret as one might think.

There is very little foul language in the book; however, there are some implied sex scenes that will not be appropriate for younger readers.  I recommend this book for readers who love time slip novels exploring World War II and for people who just need a good story!

I received a complimentary copy of this title from the publisher.  The views and opinions expressed within are my own.

The Woman in the White Kimono

Woman in the white kimono

Author: Ana Johns

Publisher: Park Row

Release Date: May 28, 2019

Rating: 5 Stars

Reviewer: Jessica Higgins

One of the best Japanese literature selections that we’ve seen!

 In 1957, tensions continue to run high in American occupied Japan.  The Japanese industry is still working on recovery and families that previously enjoyed a lavish lifestyle are looking at diminished returns.  Naoko Nakamura’s family is facing this possibility and her father arranges a marriage to try to solidify a partnership for his company.  Naoko has her own plans as she has given her heart to an American sailor and wants to live for true happiness.  When her family discovers that she has conceived his child, it causes a huge amount of disgrace and she is outcast while her beau is on an American tour.  The consequences of her choice will haunt her all the days of her life and cause unknown ramifications for future generations.

 Tori Kovac has been taking care of her dying father when she discovers a letter in his mail from Japan.  After he dies, she reads the letter and begins to discover that the man she has always known as her father had another life that she never knew about.  As the secrets begin to unravel, she wonders if she ever truly knew her father.  Without hesitation, Tori sets off for Japan to unravel the mystery that her father left in his wake.

 I’m a huge fan of literature set in Japan and this may be the best that I’ve read.  It’s a time slip novel crossing between 1957 and present day.  The amount of research that was put into writing this book is incredible.  Throughout Naoko’s story, everything felt like I was right there along side her during the time period.  From understanding the culture at the time to the emotions that were being felt within the country.  The pain that Naoko experienced was also so raw that it could have only been based on a true story, which is very sad indeed.  My eyes stung with tears as I read what had happened to these poor women during a dark period.  I’m glad that the author felt compelled to bring this era to light to help people understand what occurred so that we can learn from it as a society.  I also enjoyed that this was a novel free from foul language, which shows that a great story can be accomplished just on the merits.

 I received a complimentary copy of this title from the publisher.  The views and opinions expressed within are my own.

Castle on the Rise

Castle on the Rise

Author: Kristy Cambron

Series: The Lost Castle #2

Publisher: Thomas Nelson

Release Date: February 5, 2019

Rating: 5 Stars

Reviewer: Jessica Higgins

Three more stories centered around a new set of castle ruins.  This series is fantastic!

 As Ellie and Quinn’s wedding approaches, Ellie’s friend Laine Forrester travels to France with her daughter Cassie to attend.  Shortly after the wedding, Ellie drops a bombshell concerning her health to Laine and explains that she and Quinn will be traveling to Ireland to visit his estranged family over a personal mater.  She asks if Laine and Cassie will come along because of her experience with antiques.  But Laine has been holding secrets of a failed marriage from Ellie as well.  Quinn’s brother Cormac has become a welcome distraction in Ellie’s life and Cassie has become quite taken with him as well.  Once in Ireland, Laine begins to learn the history behind the family’s pub that has been in business since the late 18th century and all the events that the pub has survived in the past.  When Laine discovers that the family has been left a castle estate, she begins to help catalogue the items left there, including several pianos.  But no one could believe the role this castle has played in the revolution and rebellion throughout Ireland’s history.

 There have been a lot of reviews about the controversy of this book.  First of all, this is a work of fiction.  The author did a great job portraying the time period that each of the stories are set.  The language and phrases used by the characters fit both with the location that the book is set in as well as the time period.  There was some negativity mentioned about alcohol, which is part of the culture of Ireland and the fact the part of the book is set at a pub yields that this is going to be part of the story.  I challenge readers to not get taken in by minutia, but just to enjoy the stories that have been presented to them.

 As far as the stories go, I enjoyed this book more than the first.  Laine’s story is that of a broken woman who has been dealt blow after blow in life.  She needs a strong companion, who has historically been Ellie, but with Ellie’s condition she won’t be able to fully rely on her.  Enter Cormac who is something of a dark horse that finds a way to Laine’s heart.  The companion stories of the 1916 Easter weekend uprising and the 18th century revolution also completed the story of the present in multiple ways.  If I dive to far into these I’m afraid that I’ll start to reveal spoilers, so I encourage you to pick up a copy of this book to find out more!

 The first book centers around Quinn with the second on his brother Cormac, even though neither is the primary character.  Given that this is a trilogy, will the next book be told with their sister Kiera?  I would love to see this story told with a member of their family as the primary character, but I’ll guess I’ll have to wait until next year.

 I received a complimentary copy of this title from the publisher.  The views and opinions expressed within are my own.