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Friday, September 22, 2017

TLC Book Tours: The Other Alcott by Elise Hooper

Title: The Other Alcott
Author: Elise Hooper 
Format: Paperback
Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks
Publish Date: September 5, 2017
Source: TLC Book Tours and HarperCollins 

What's the Story?:

From "We all know the story of the March sisters, heroines of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women. But while everyone cheers on Jo March, based on Louisa herself, Amy March is often the least favorite sister. Now, it’s time to learn the truth about the real “Amy”, Louisa’s sister, May.

Stylish, outgoing, creative, May Alcott grows up longing to experience the wide world beyond Concord, Massachusetts. While her sister Louisa crafts stories, May herself is a talented and dedicated artist, taking lessons in Boston, turning down a marriage proposal from a well-off suitor, and facing scorn for entering what is very much a man’s profession.

Life for the Alcott family has never been easy, so when Louisa’s Little Women is published, its success eases the financial burdens they’d faced for so many years. Everyone agrees the novel is charming, but May is struck to the core by the portrayal of selfish, spoiled “Amy March.” Is this what her beloved sister really thinks of her?

So May embarks on a quest to discover her own true identity, as an artist and a woman. From Boston to Rome, London, and Paris, this brave, talented, and determined woman forges an amazing life of her own, making her so much more than merely The Other Alcott."

My Two Cents:

"The Other Alcott" is the story of May Alcott, sister of author Louisa May Alcott, author of the classic book "Little Women." Louisa is seen as the successful sister. She chooses to write what's marketable so that she can provide money to her family. She also has a tendency to hold this over her family's head, especially May. May is an artist who is still seeking commercial success out of the long shadow of her sister. This is a fascinating look at a pair of famous sisters and the push and pull that drove both of their lives.

Ah, sisterhood! Coming from a trio of close sisters, I am fascinated by sisterhood. I can't imagine my life without my sisters and so I am always interested in this subject. Louisa and May aren't exactly close when the book opens. Louisa has just attained success with "Little Women," which features May's art, which is panned often by critics. To add insult to injury, it becomes apparent that spoiled Amy March is based on May. May is hurt and embarrassed that Louisa is making money off of her in this way. But as Louisa constantly points out, it is because of the success of her book that May can afford to do things like travel to Europe in order to pursue her art.

I loved reading about the push and pull of these sisters. They obviously love each other and care about each other but there is a lot of competition and jealousy that constantly gets in the way of having a super close relationship. In the end, it's clear that they respect each other and May makes peace with being in her sister's shadow and finding happiness in being "behind the scenes."

The writing was good! I really liked how the author captured the thoughts and feelings of the two sisters. I loved reading about May's time in Europe and how she seeks making her own name. This was a small detail but I loved the appearance of Mary Cassatt and how she introduces May to Impressionism before Impressionism was really a thing. I love Cassatt and I would love to see a novel about her!

Overall, this was a great book that left me thinking a lot about how lucky I am to have the sisters that I have. There is no greater gift!


Wednesday, September 20, 2017

The Life of a Book

We book lovers are a special breed. Not only do we love reading books but we love hearing stories about the books. Why were they written? How did they come to be? For my fellow book lovers, boy, do I have something for you!

Penguin Random House has started doing a new series called "The Life of a Book" and it's interviews with those in the know about some of the hottest releases and how they came to be. Their latest is about a super hot release by Celeste Ng, "Little Fires Everywhere." It's not just one interview but an interview series about different aspects of the book to include editing and marketing.

Even though I read a lot (a lot! a lot!), I often lose sight that it is so much more than just the author who has a hand in bringing a book to life.  

This is also a great opportunity for me to once again plug one of my favorite podcasts (also from Penguin Random House) called Beaks & Geeks where Ms. Ng was just interviewed last week.

Take a look!

What book would you like to see them take on next?

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

HFVBT Interview: Jessica Brockmole, Author of "Woman Enters Left"

I am very excited to welcome Jessica Brockmole here to A Bookish Affair as a part of the HFVBT tour of "Woman Enters Left."

1.     Since What inspired you to write "Woman Enters Left?"
WOMAN ENTERS LEFT came from a number of ideas I’d tucked away in my Future Story Ideas Box. I’d wanted to write about the radium girls, about early Hollywood, about road travel and Model Ts. Route 66 and divorce ranches. Loving a friend from afar. All of these came together to tell Louise, Ethel, and Florrie’s stories. But ultimately the book was inspired by the ephemera I used to research it. Without all of my road maps, travel guides, budget books, postcards, recipe booklets, and grocery ads I might not have thought of all the ways to tell a story. It isn’t just narrative that can make up a story, but all of the documents we use to record our lives.

2.     Cross country road trips seem to have a special place in American lore. Why do you think we as Americans are still so drawn to road trips today?
With the vastness of the U.S., it’s easy to think of the road trip as something almost quintessentially American. This is a country it could take half a year to cross via covered wagon. Even when the transcontinental railroad cut that time drastically, it still took more time and money than all Americans could devote to travel. It wasn’t until the advent of low-cost, relatively reliable automobiles in the 1920s that middle-class Americans began to take to the roads in increasing numbers. With a picnic basket or a tent in the back, they could go for a jaunt into the countryside or, with a road map and a lot of gumption, set off to one of the many newly opened National Parks. Not only did reaching such places really require a car in those early years, but they also required a lot of fortitude in an era before frequent service stations or regular paving. That sense of adventure also was something quintessentially American and the road trip began to move into American mythology as a rite of passage.

3.     What’s the best road trip that you yourself have ever taken?
I’ve taken a lot of fun ones over the years with friends and family. Last summer my husband, our kids, and I took our new truck to the road. Two thousand five hundred thirty-nine miles, eight states, six museums, four national parks, millions of fossils, more than a few bison, and an unspecified number of historical markers equaled one awesome family road trip!

4.     Who is your favorite character in “Woman Enters Left” and why?
This is a hard question to answer; I spent so long with all of them that I consider them all really good friends! As much as I love my main characters, when asked about favorites, I’m always drawn to my secondaries. Carl is a character who grew from a background villain to a complex and interesting character integral to the novel. I would love to sit down with Carl and Hank and one of their jigsaw puzzles and hear their story.

5.     What is your favorite scene in this book and why?
I love the scene where Louise pushes her car out of the snow. It’s so emblematic of the strength she’s discovered on the drive. I also love the quiet scene in the tent with Ethel and Florrie being nervous while the air smells like soap. I love Louise and Arnie meeting over that flashbacked library table. So many! But the one that always (still) makes me cry is A.L. escaping everyone and covering her mama to keep her warm.

6.     If you could bring three people, fictional or non-fictional, with you to a deserted island, who would you bring and why?

I’d take Dolores Umbridge, Bill Sykes, and Bob Ewell…and then I’d jump in my secret hidden helicopter and leave them there. If there’s room on the boat, let’s squeeze in the man who shot Bambi’s mom.

Monday, September 18, 2017

HFVBT Review: Woman Enters Left by Jessica Brockmole

Title: Woman Enters Left
Author: Jessica Brockmole 
Format: Paperback
Publisher: Ballantine Books
Publish Date: August 8, 2017
Source: HFVBT

What's the Story?:

From "In the 1950s, movie star Louise Wilde is caught between an unfulfilling acting career and a shaky marriage when she receives an out-of-the-blue phone call: She has inherited the estate of Florence “Florrie” Daniels, a Hollywood screenwriter she barely recalls meeting. Among Florrie’s possessions are several unproduced screenplays, personal journals, and—inexplicably—old photographs of Louise’s mother, Ethel. On an impulse, Louise leaves a film shoot in Las Vegas and sets off for her father’s house on the East Coast, hoping for answers about the curious inheritance and, perhaps, about her own troubled marriage.

Nearly thirty years earlier, Florrie takes off on an adventure of her own, driving her Model T westward from New Jersey in pursuit of broader horizons. She has the promise of a Hollywood job and, in the passenger seat, Ethel, her best friend since childhood. Florrie will do anything for Ethel, who is desperate to reach Nevada in time to reconcile with her husband and reunite with her daughter. Ethel fears the loss of her marriage; Florrie, with long-held secrets confided only in her journal, fears its survival.

In parallel tales, the three women—Louise, Florrie, Ethel—discover that not all journeys follow a map. As they rediscover their carefree selves on the road, they learn that sometimes the paths we follow are shaped more by our traveling companions than by our destinations."

My Two Cents:

"Women Enters Left" is the story of two different road trips taken a couple decades apart. In the 1930s, Florrie and Ethel have already been friends for about forever. They are leaving their jobs behind to go to the West Coast where she hopes to land a job in Hollywood. Decades later, Louise is running away from her life as an actress as she tries to put together why she has just inherited the estate of Florrie, a screenwriter that she barely knew. She will go on another, vastly different road trip. Filled with family secrets, this is a good story with a lot of twists and turns.

I loved the characters in this book. I was especially drawn to Florrie and Ethel and the story between them. They have a lot of history together being childhood friends and former co-workers. A large part of their story has to do with their former careers as "radium girls." This affects everything from their relationships and how they pan out to the more forward medical difficulties that really affect the story line. It is sad and fascinating and these characters give a face to the large amount of women that faced difficulties because of the radium.

The setting was great too! Who doesn't love the open road? I loved the juxtaposition between Florrie and Ethel's trip and Louise's trip. They both have very different feelings even though the setting is alike. They stop in different places. They figure out things in different ways but I really liked the road trip acting as a common thread between the two story lines. It made me want to jump in my car and go somewhere!

The writing of the book was good! One of the things that I liked the best is that the book is not only told through narrative but through journal entries, letters between characters, and other "found" items that really helped the characters feel real. As the author explains in her Author's Note, you really are able to get a sense of people from these "found" items. You know what makes them tick. You learn what they think of themselves through journal entries. You learn how they interact with others through their letters. It's little bits of themselves. This book allows you to put all of those things together yourself, which was sort of a neat experience as a reader.

Overall, this was a good story and I'm looking forward to more by Jessica Brockmole!


Friday, September 15, 2017

Review: Cami and Kat and the Carrot Girl by Grete Bravo

Title: Cami and Kat and the Carrot Girl
Author: Grete Bravo 
Format: Paperback
Publisher: Createspace
Publish Date: March 17, 2017
Source: Author

What's the Story?:

From "Grete Bravo's charming new children's mystery follows two sisters, Cami and Kat, as they struggle to adjust to their parents' divorce and their move to a new neighborhood.

Timid Cami and adventurous Kat are unhappy. They both wish for something exciting to happen in their dreary new home. One day, their wish comes true. The two sisters meet Siggy, the carrot girl, an eccentric outcast at their school. Their classmates are afraid of her and convinced she has special powers. When Cami and Kat meet Siggy, they realize that she, like everyone else, just wants friends. Siggy lets them play with her little dog, Plet, and teaches them about growing their own vegetables. The sisters love hanging out with Siggy in her garden and helping her feed her farm animals.

As the three grow closer, Cami and Kat discover a secret about Siggy's family. If they don't act in time, Siggy could disappear from their lives forever!

Bravo, who grew up in Svendborg, Denmark, includes Danish vocabulary to expand children's horizons and teach them about other people and cultures. Cami's and Kat's adventures with the carrot girl emphasize universal values of friendship, compassion, and understanding."

My Two Cents:

In "Cami and Kat and the Carrot Girl," sisters Cami and Kat aren't sure about their new neighborhood until they meet Siggy, the carrot girl. Although they have gone to school with her, they never really knew her and she always seemed like an outcast. Once they get to know her, they find that she is actually quite wonderful and takes them on all sorts of adventures so they begin to feel at home in their new place. Siggy is hiding a secret though that could upend their new friendship!

This is the first book in a planned mystery series for middle grade readers. With a good mix of friendship, fun, mystery, and a bit of an off-the-beaten path story, this book was a lot of fun. Our main characters are ones that middle grade readers will love to follow. Siggy is fun and a bit eccentric. I found her very refreshing because she doesn't seem to care what others think and she is super independent. I really liked that she introduces Kat and Cami to a new language, something that makes this book feel interactive!

The mystery aspect of the book was great. I don't want to give any of the twists and turns away but I wanted to know more about Siggy and her family. There are some pertinent details that seem to still be hidden by the end of the book. I was hoping that we'd get a little more information in order to understand more about what was going on. Perhaps that will come in future books?

Overall, this was a good, imaginative story! The characters were memorable and the story line is perfect for middle grade readers looking for a good mystery. There were some loose ends that I would have liked to be tied up but again, this is only the first book in the series so I will try to be patient to see if the ends are tied in future books!


Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Review: Beartown by Fredrik Backman

Title: Beartown
Author: Fredrik Backman
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: Atria Books
Publish Date: April 25, 2017
Source: Library

What's the Story?:

From "People say Beartown is finished. A tiny community nestled deep in the forest, it is slowly losing ground to the ever encroaching trees. But down by the lake stands an old ice rink, built generations ago by the working men who founded this town. And in that ice rink is the reason people in Beartown believe tomorrow will be better than today. Their junior ice hockey team is about to compete in the national semi-finals, and they actually have a shot at winning. All the hopes and dreams of this place now rest on the shoulders of a handful of teenage boys.

Being responsible for the hopes of an entire town is a heavy burden, and the semi-final match is the catalyst for a violent act that will leave a young girl traumatized and a town in turmoil. Accusations are made and, like ripples on a pond, they travel through all of Beartown, leaving no resident unaffected.

Beartown explores the hopes that bring a small community together, the secrets that tear it apart, and the courage it takes for an individual to go against the grain. In this story of a small forest town, Fredrik Backman has found the entire world.

My Two Cents:

"Beartown" is the story of a small town where the whole town seems to find hope in the kids' hockey league. There is also a darker aspect to this book that I was not expecting; this isn't exactly a feel-good story. For my fellow Americans, the hockey team has very much the same feel as a high school football team in a small American town. The hockey team brings the town hope but they also run the town and get away with a lot that they would not get away with if it weren't for the team.

Fredrik Backman is definitely on my auto-read list after reading books like "A Man Called Ove." I picked up this book automatically from my library without knowing what the book was about. This book is markedly different than "A Man Called Ove" and "Britt Marie Was Here." Different isn't bad; Backman's great writing and memorable characters are still present but don't expect a super uplifting book.

The characters in this book are very different. Some of them are hiding things throughout the book and the action is often driven by what is being hidden. The story follows both the adults and the teenagers in the book, which I really liked as you get a multi-faceted look at what makes the town as a whole tick and what brings it to its knees.

Overall, the story was good but much darker than what I was expecting. It makes me interested to see where Backman goes in the future with his books!

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Review: Imagine That!: How Dr. Seuss Wrote the Cat in the Hat by Judy Sierra, Kevin Hawkes (Illustrations)

Title: Imagine That!: How Dr. Seuss Wrote the Cat in the Hat
Author: Judy Sierra, Kevin Hawkes (Illustrations) 
Format: ARC
Publisher: Random House Books for Young Readers
Publish Date: September 12, 2017 (Today!)
Source: Publisher

What's the Story?:

From "Have you ever wondered how the great Dr. Seuss wrote his most famous book? Did you know that for The Cat in the Hat, he wasn't allowed to make up the fun words he was known for--like OOBLECK and IT-KUTCH and HIPPO-NO-HUNGUS? He was only allowed to use words from a very strict list!

This bouncy account of the early career of Dr. Seuss (a.k.a. Ted Geisel) proves that sometimes limitations can be the best inspiration of all.

Kid-friendly prose (with Seussian rhyme for Ted's dialogue) and whimsical illustrations by award winner Kevin Hawkes recall the work of Dr. Seuss himself. Writing tips from Dr. Seuss and exclusive letters from the author and illustrator, detailing how they created this book, are included!"

My Two Cents:

"Imagine That!" is the story of Dr. Seuss and how he came up with all of his wonderful stories. It's filled with great illustrations from an illustrator I adore: Kevin Hawkes. It's about how he first got jobs as a writer for a new style of early reader books after an interesting career as a cartoonist for adults. It talks about how he turned the children lit world on its head with his zany stories.

Dr. Seuss is a hot author in our household as I have two year old twins. I've been reading the girls Dr. Seuss books since they were in utero and now that they are two, they appreciate the books even more. While this book is probably a little advanced for two year olds, my girls loved all of the silly words that appear in this book just like they like the silly rhymes in the Dr. Seuss books. I know my girls definitely learned something about one of their favorite authors in this book and so did I!

My girls (and I) also adored the pictures in this book. Hawkes is a great illustrator and did a great job of bringing Dr. Seuss to life. My girls loved seeing some of their old familiar friends from Dr. Seuss like the Cat in the Hat and we loved seeing new ones as well. This was a fun read for the whole family!

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