In this haunting, lyrical fantasy set in 1930s Chicago, a talented ballerina finds herself torn between her dreams and her desires when she’s pursued by a secretive patron who may be more than he seems.
Growing up in Chicago’s Little Sicily in the years following the Great War, Grace Dragotta has always wanted to be a ballerina, ever since she first peered through the windows of the Near North Ballet Company. So when Grace is orphaned, she chooses the ballet as her home, imagining herself forever ensconced in a transcendent world of light and beauty so different from her poor, immigrant upbringing.
Years later, with the Great Depression in full swing, Grace has become the company’s new prima ballerina—though achieving her long-held dream is not the triumph she once envisioned. Time and familiarity have tarnished that shining vision, and her new position means the loss of her best friend in the world. Then she attracts the attention of the enigmatic Master La Rosa as her personal patron, and realizes the world is not as small or constricted as she had come to fear.
Who is her mysterious patron, and what does he want from her? As Grace begins to unlock the Master’s secrets, she discovers that there is beauty in darkness as well as light, finds that true friendship cannot be broken by time or distance, and realizes there may be another way entirely to achieve the transcendence she has always sought.
Book Synopsis – NetGalley
Wow, first of all, I just want share that the cover is simply breathtaking with nice little Easter eggs from the story illustrated within it. Now, onto the story! The lyrical prose is so eloquently written and I know that may not be everyone’s cup of tea but I thoroughly enjoyed it as it gave the story a breath of descriptive, fresh air. It transports the reader’s senses (all 5 of them) along with the reader throughout the book. This gives the story and its characters atmospheric texture.
The first half of the book lays the foundation of the plot with the real-world side of things then in the second half, the reader is transported into the magical. I can greatly appreciate the author’s background in ballet (as I have none.) I love myths and fantasy and stories of the seemingly ordinary become extraordinary and finding their strength within. This story fit the bill for that especially with a female lead character. I would highly recommend for fantasy / mythology lovers, as well as, those with backgrounds in dance and performance arts that love a little plot twist and magic mixed in. The romance in the book is very mild and suitable for younger readers.
I loved the strong female connection between Grace and Emilia and how the lean into each other during difficult and joyous times. Remember, sometimes family is the people you choose! I also love the themes of how darkness can be beautiful and feel like home as well as light and how the duality can exist in all of us.
Overall, this book was beautifully written and I enjoyed the premise and the author did a wonderful job of portraying the mythic themes of love, loss, friendship, dance, music and finding one’s true strength within.
Below is a hauntingly beautiful playlist that was compiled by Random House Books on Spotify. Hopefully, this can give you some melodic enhancement as you read! Enjoy!
Coming in at Book #3 read in 2023 is Reminders of Him by Colleen Hoover! In the current bookish world, if you haven’t heard of or seen a book by Colleen Hoover by now, you may be living under a rock. She is plastered all over BookTok and Bookstagram and best sellers lists, so I had to find out what the big deal was. Another runover from 2022 to 2023. This was my first introduction to a CoHo book so let’s dive into it!
Format: Audiobook and E-Book
Length: 10 Hours and 17 Minutes / 335 pages
How I Discovered This Book: CoHo is highly, highly recommended on BookTok and Bookstagram and a friend and co-worker also recommended her.
How I acquired: Thank you to Kindle Unlimited! This was Read and Listen! I love that feature!
Date Published: January 18, 2022
Date Started: Dec 21, 2022
Date Finished: Jan 22, 2023
This is the story of a young mother named Kenna, who is back in a small town after her whole world fell apart 5 years prior. She had a rough childhood and just when things start to look up, her life is completely upended. She just got out of prison after the death of her boyfriend and is looking to start over. It is also the story of a guy named Ledger who befriends Kenna and naturally, sparks fly….pretty hot, but there is so much that complicates matters between them as it turns out, Ledger is the best friend of her deceased boyfriend. This is not a meet cute story where things go swimmingly. There are others involved that complicate this dynamic, as well. I enjoyed the pace and flow of the story as it gives you more of Kenna’s backstory piece by piece instead of shoved at you all at once. I liked that because it keeps you coming back for more.
In the beginning, after I found out the basic gist of the plot, I’m thinking, “How is CoHo going to make this all wrap up neatly at the end and it be believable?” Let me just say that she pulls it off. I like that she allows the characters to be realistic and messy and complicated. No Mary Sue’s here. The writing style is pretty straight forward, no eloquent prose or complex wording but the author does a pretty good job of relaying the complexities of judging others’ too soon and also trying to understand others’ point of views. I think Ms. Hoover did a great job with Kenna’s letter writing and thought processes as she tries to make sense of everything and see things from other people’s perspective and not just dwelling in her own character’s misery. I honestly believe the world itself could use more of that understanding from other perspectives because then it would allow for more forgiveness and empathy, just as the characters in this novel try to navigate. There was one hitch with Ms. Hoover’s writing style from the male’s perspective. I just wasn’t buying phrases in Ledger’s mind about the color of Kenna’s hair and her smell when he first meets her. I’m not altogether too sure that guys really thing like that but then again, I could be totally off base. I alternated between reading and listening to the audiobook. The narration was decent. The male narrator sounded so intense, like he should be narrating the preview to some action movie, à la Die Hard or Terminator etc. The female who narrated Kenna’s part had a very soft and articulate voice.
This book is about heartbreaking events that alter life as you know it forever. It is about choices that were made and perhaps not wisely so. It is about finding forgiveness in almost unforgivable circumstances. It is about forgiving yourself in almost unforgivable circumstances. It is about redemption and hope. It is about how we do things out of love and loyalty but don’t realize how those choices can have damaging effects. There were moments when I felt the sting of tears so make sure to have some tissues handy just in case. I will leave with some pretty poignant quotes from the book that stood out to me and hopefully intrigue you to pick up the book. All in all, not a bad introduction to Colleen Hoover. I look forward to reading some more of her work in the future.
“I take a drink of my coffee and close my eyes and cry because life can be so fucking cruel and hard, and I’ve wanted to quit living it so many times, but then moments like these remind me that happiness isn’t some permanent thing we’re all trying to achieve in life, it’s merely a thing that shows up every now and then, sometimes in tiny doses that are just substantial enough to keep us going.”
― Colleen Hoover, Reminders of Him
*This hit hard!*
“It proves that time, distance, and devastation allow people enough
opportunity to craft villains out of people they don’t even know.”
― Colleen Hoover, Reminders of Him
*It certainly does!*
“Grudges are heavy, but for the people hurting the most, I suppose
forgiveness is even heavier.”
― Colleen Hoover, Reminders of Him
*That is deep!*
“Sometimes I wonder if we’re all born with equal amounts of good and
evil. What if no one person is more or less malevolent than another, and that
we all just release our bad at different times, in different ways?”
― Colleen Hoover, Reminders of Him
*We are all capable of both for sure!*
“We’re all just a bunch of sad people doing what we have to do to make it until tomorrow.”
― Colleen Hoover, Reminders of Him
*True Story....some days*
Welcome back y’all! Book #2 of 2023!!! Woohoo! This one sort of rolled over from 2022 because I did borrow the audiobook from the local library and I was slacking getting it done and it had others waiting for it but I digress. I did get it back this month and I did finish it finally! I just want to say that I chose this book due to watching the show My Unorthodox Life on Netflix. I really liked the show and after Season 1, I knew the memoir was coming out. Well I didn’t finish the book last year so I got to binge on Season 2 and my opinion of the show someone changed after watching Season 2 and things sort of came full circle for me after finishing the book so let’s get into it.
Length: 19 hours and 11 minutes
How I Discovered This Book: I watched and loved the Netflix show, My Unorthodox Life, which is a reality show about Julia Haart and her family.
How I Acquired: Borrowed from the local library
Date Published: In this format – April 12, 2022
Date Started: November, 2022
Date Finished: 01/19/2023
This book was a mixed bag for me. I watched Season 1 of My Unorthodox Life and was completely intrigued by Julia and wanted to know more about her backstory. This very wealthy, workaholic, mom and boss babe seems to have it all and astonishingly, she came from an ultra fundamentalist, orthodox Jewish community which had me thinking…”How?” Like, what is your story girl? I consider myself a feminist and upon watching her show, I was immediately rooting for her. I was super stoked when she revealed in the show she was publishing a memoir about her life and at the end of the season, I was eager to know more. I went into this book with high expectations. The first half of the book was very enlightening. I knew little about the workings of the Jewish community, let alone the words and holidays and rituals and celebrations. Julia did a fantastic job of explaining these things to Non-Jewish listeners. I can understand how she became a teacher in her community. I really was hooked during the first half of the book where she goes through her childhood and into her young adulthood and marriage and the strict written and unwritten rules of life as a woman in her community. The constraining way of life she was living through those years was indeed heartbreaking to listen to. Then came the second half of the book.
For me, when I started struggling to get through the book, was how she just leaves and then all of a sudden, she has wealthy men to help invest in her ideas almost out of nowhere. This is where I started getting a little suspicious. All of these miracles suddenly started happening and everyone and everywhere and everything was just beautiful and amazing and wanted to sleep with her. The goings on about brands and money and 5-star hotels and clothes and yacht parties etc. became nauseating because she is literally enjoying all of these things with supposedly no money or using these other wealthy men’s money. The name dropping became annoying too. I feel like a lot was either glossed over or left out. I was like, “what happened during the transition from leaving the community?” Nope, it’s just bam…..jet setting and shopping and thousand dollar dinners in Europe? I guess that I cannot relate much to the obvious obsession with the luxury everything lifestyle that she just seemingly catapults into upon leaving her community. Of course she does admit to being too naïve and trusting and then everyone is out to take advantage of her or sleep with her blah, blah, blah. I was struggling to get through it. One minute she is talking about having sex in front of a famous fountain in Rome with her hot, British model boyfriend (whom is much younger than her) to her male business partner (who’s money she spends steadily) is trying to control her then on to a preachy, albeit, interesting interlude into the “Adjacent Possible” theory. I was torn on whether to finish. At that point, I was like Julia….I get the whole “Woman Power” thing but you are too wrapped up in the materialistic and being money hungry. The second half barely touched on her kids. Luckily for her, she had her ex-husband stay behind to help raise and take care of the kids while he shows up as a weekend Mom sometimes while the rest of the time she is living the high life supposedly for work and to help build a better life for her kids? The kids needed her then not someday when they are no longer kids and can just get bankrolled by Mommy. The part where Batsheva (her oldest) is paid money each month to take care of her son (Batsheva’s younger brother.) had me shaking my head. Now, after finishing the book and watching Season 2, it all made a little more sense.
Her kids, minus Aron the youngest, were all working for their mother at the end of Season 1 and into Season 2. What is the term now???? Nepotism Baby?? Anywho, I was sort of burnt out at the unending hyperbole and bragginess and name dropping towards the end of the book. I do give Julia props for admitting her naivety and mistakes made because of it. The book ends abruptly as she gets a job with LaPerla and has met her now estranged 2nd husband, Silvio. There is no context on their relationship, as far as, how it began romantically and the forming of Elite World Group and so forth. Then to watch Season 2 and see the cluster that her marriage or should I say, divorce turned into without the backstory or context, left me perturbed. Although, after reading the book and her behaviors in the past with money and men….I couldn’t help but wonder, what her motives really were when she married Silvio to begin with and what a toxic individual he turned out to be. It seems like she struggles with men, money and relationships period. Could it be from her time being so brainwashed and restricted or could it be who she is and has been all along….very self-serving and self focused? The way she confronts her daughter and best friend in Season 2 about them not being present and there for her during the drama after she was fired but in reality, they were there. I see her Instagram post where she drives an ambulance to Ukraine to deliver supplies but she has to put in a plug for her luxury brand clothes she wears to do this. C’mon Julia, you totally took away the focus of why you were there in order to shamelessly promote highly expensive clothes in a war-torn country. The post has since been edited where she takes out the remark about the name brand so there is hope after all.
Back to the book….overall….the review of the book fits perfectly with my thoughts about Julia as a person. I don’t know her personally this is just based off of what I’ve seen on the show, read in her book and seen on her social media. It’s all a mixed bag. The book is very engaging in the first half. Julia is a very interesting person with an interesting backstory. The book goes into the second half just drowning in materialism and self-serving drama. Julia displays the little selfish monster hiding in her Gucci purse in the show as well. The book has some poignant moments of self-reflection and admittance of poor judgement on her part. Julia does have moments of humility on the show and in social media. Overall, I think the book is decent and I think Julia herself is decent but like the book and like most of us, we are all grey individuals…..light and shadow……..giving and selfish, moments of smart decision making and moments of poor judgement. I can’t hate on Julia or her book too much because while I do not wear luxury brand clothes or jet-set to Paris at the drop of dime…..I also have my moments of poor judgement and my moments of being determined and savvy and I also support women which is why I wish Julia the best in kicking Silvio’s butt in court and success for the future. I also hope that, as she so aptly states towards the end of her book, that she is still learning…that she learns a little more humility and that money and name brands aren’t everything. I’m glad for Julia, that she left her community, that she was able to catapult into a luxury lifestyle (despite the means), that she adamantly supports women and that she is still learning and continues to grow as a person.
Do I recommend this book? – I do, but with the warning that the first half is the most educational and engaging half. While the second half is all Me, money, sex, me, me, me, money, money, travel to Paris, travel to Italy, I was wearing this…etc.
Who do I recommend this book to? – Anyone with an interest in Jewish culture, anyone interested in memoirs, and anyone who is highly invested in fashion and luxury travel. Anyone who is truly interested in leaving an ultra-fundamentalist community….you may be inspired after reading this but this is definitely not a “how-to.” Her life is not real life for a regular person….it is a real life for a super lucky, ambitious and connected person who has means to travel extensively and meet more connected people.
Ok y’all! Big round of applause for completing the first book of 2023 for me! Full disclosure; this book was on the shorter side so I was able to listen to it whenever I had a free moment so , like, while driving and multitasking! I love audiobooks because they allow me to devour a story while doing other things too! I kept seeing this title splattered all over Goodreads last year and my daughter loved ICarly and Sam and Cat growing up so I said….why not? I listened to the audiobook because the author narrates it so you are literally hearing their own story with their own voice….I love that! Anywho, on to the review!
Length: 6 hours 26 minutes
How I Discovered This Book: Highly Rated and Recommended on Goodreads
How I Acquired: Audible Monthly Credit
Date Started: 01/03/2023
Date Finished: 01/10/2023
Whew! Kudos to Jennette for being so candid and brave in telling her story. I chose the Audiobook edition because I prefer to hear people’s personal stories in their own voice….literally….if possible. It just adds the personal touch to it even more. I must say, Jennette read her book, talking in a fast pace so there were times I had to re-listen to parts to make sure I heard everything correctly.
Her story is a heartbreaking one but it is told with a candor and bluntness that would often times catch me by surprise. The way she talks about her abuse or certain experiences with a straight forward, nonchalant tone as she drops a bombshell on you, definitely makes your eyebrows go up at times. I wouldn’t say this book is hilarious, especially given its topics but there is definitely a tone of Gallows Humor throughout but it adds to the context of where she is coming from recalling these times in her life. The Gallows Humor helps drive home the feelings of self-loathing and emptiness she felt so I think it is an important ingredient in the storytelling.
I do think this book should come with a trigger warning for those who suffer or have suffered from eating disorders, narcissistic parents etc. So for readers with those backgrounds, please read with caution. A lot of the abuse at the hands of her narcissistic mother just really blew my mind. As a mom, I couldn’t even fathom some of the things that her mother did to her so it was heartbreaking to listen to. I think and hope writing this book was truly cathartic for Jennette because as a mom, my 17 year old daughter grew up watching ICarly and Sam and Cat. They were 2 of her favorite shows and I would laugh along with my daughter while she watched. I think this book is a good example of “you never really know what goes on behind closed doors.” Just because a young, pretty actress seems to come from a place of privilege and has a dream life……doesn’t necessarily mean she really does.
I really like how Jennette wraps the book up…not with a pretty bow but with the simple fact that there is no fairytale ending and she is fully aware that she is a work in progress with her healing. On that note, I hope Jennette embraces her life and its potential and continues to work towards the life she wants and her healing. I do recommend listening to this one simply because she is sharing her story…the good, bad and really ugly and at the end of the day, she is just a human like the rest of us….just trying to be her authentic, true and vulnerable self. All the while, embracing and acknowledging her inner struggles and slipups sometimes while still working towards healing each day. It doesn’t get much more real or human than that. P.S. I’m glad her mom died too…..SMH!