A few weeks ago, Lauren B. Grossman (the author) contacted me over Goodreads, offering me a copy of her book in exchange for an honest review on either Amazon or Goodreads. Usually, I do not do this type of thing (I’ve never even been interested in joining Netgallery) because I don’t like the pressure of having to review something. I review what I feel like reviewing. That’s it.
However, since the author herself contacted me, I felt it was the least I could do. Plus, I’m trying to read more indie authors, since I think the publishing industry is fixated on publishing only certain types of books with certain themes, passing up on exceptional books in the process.
I confess I had little expectations going into reading an indie book. As opposed to a book published by a big publishing company, indie books have usually only one person making all the decisions. This can be for better or for worse. Horrible scenes might be kept because the author is fond of them, but then again great scenes might be saved that do not align with the tastes of the publishers. So going into this book I had very low expectations and I was pleasantly surprised (and you guys know how critical I can be in my reviews).
Release date: October 3, 2014
Plot Synopsis: Rainee Allan is a successful author who has writer’s block. While cleaning her apartment, she comes across an ID she picked up at the Holocaust Museum; an ID of a woman, born thirty years before her who shares her birthday. Her name is Jana Lutken (pronounced Yana, and boy will the book remind you of that fact). Rainee sets out to find inspiration for her next book, only to be drawn into the lives of many affected by the bloodiest war in history. This book is a mystery, a romance, a thriller, and, more importantly, a commentary on those affected by Nazi Germany.
I cannot emphasize how much I enjoyed this book. It certainly wasn’t perfect (I’ll get into my minor criticisms later), but the plot was one of the most moving I have found in years. It is rare a book can bring me to tears, and yet this ending did. I’m not ashamed to admit that.
Most of the book is separated between Rainee’s life in 1997 and Jana’s life from the 1930s to 1950s. Honestly, I was not a fan of Rainee’s first chapters. They felt cliqued: an author experiencing writer’s block who turns to a person’s picture (in this case ID) to find inspiration. However, Jana’s early (extremely emotional) chapters kept me intrigued. And the plot only got better.
I won’t address the mystery too much, either in this section or my spoiler section, but suffice it to say that I did not see the later plot twists coming. And that final plot twist practically threw me out of my chair (actually, I was reading on the floor…so I guess I was lucky).
I liked the majority of the characters. Like I said, Rainee seemed a little cliqued to me in the beginning, but she really grew on me later on. She was such a sympathetic, but strong character, as was Jana herself. Every character stood out to me as being a unique person in of themselves (save for Shelley, Rainee’s best friend, but then again I feel she wasn’t really important to the plot). Martin…Max…John…everyone was just such a moving character. I liked how Grossman twisted my expectations of who was good and who was a villain.
The writing was extremely minimalistic (thus why this book is under three hundred pages). There were times I wanted to know more about a certain topic, but most of the time I found the description gave enough information without being boring. I skim books…a lot, but with this one I rarely had to do that, thanks to the tight writing.
Now, I won’t be getting into major spoilers, but just in case…
I did not like the Rainee and John’s romance at all, which was weird because I liked both of their characters individually, I just didn’t like them together. Which made me even happier when they didn’t end up together in the end, even if I felt bad for John all the same.
I loved how Grossman tied in The Golden Peacock, the traditional song Max (Jana’s brother) had changed the words to match Jana better, throughout the book. I was rather annoyed in the beginning because people kept bringing up the song but I never read the lyrics. Luckily, near the end Max finally sings the song. I find a lot of book titles seem a bit contrived or disconnected to the story, but in this one the song itself was imperative both to Jana and Max and to the ending itself.
One small complaint I have, which has nothing to do with the story, is the cover. The cover just looks unappealing and does not stand out to me. Though, considering this is an indie book and I doubt the author is a graphic designer, I cannot fault the book for that. It’s just if I was searching through books and saw this cover, I would skip over it and not think twice.
While I said earlier that the plot was excellent, there were two brief scenes that added nothing to the plot. First, the scene early in the story on the plane, where Rainee confesses to Shelley that she had a child in college and the father took the baby away to raise him. She suffers from regret because of this. It adds absolutely nothing to the plot and is not mentioned for the rest of the book. Why include a scene of intense trauma when it is ignored for the rest of the story?
Similarly, Max’s confession that he and many of the boys were sexually abused by the priests at the orphanage seems to be added only to be horrific. Max shows no trauma in dealing with this (unlike his trauma due to the war and guilt over killing people), and, like Rainee’s scene earlier, it was ignored before that point and after that point. Saying that, since these were only two small scenes, I don’t think they detracted much from the plot, but then again they didn’t add anything either.
I was pleasantly surprised about the ending. It was a bit bittersweet, but for the most part it was a happy ending. I was convinced Jana and Martin’s mother would end up dead, but they didn’t. It was a mostly happy ending, but not too much that it tasted sickening sweet.
I read tons of books about WWII, and this one is probably one of my favorite! If this author hadn’t contacted me, I don’t think I would have ever had the pleasure of reading this book. So to Grossman, if she’s reading this, Thank You!
What do you guys think of indie books? I always had a slightly negative view of them because I’ve never read a great one…until now. What are some of your favorite indie books? Do you have any recommendations for indie books for me to do next? Let me know down in the comments, follow my blog for more madness, and, as always,
Best wishes in your life full of adventure,