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Monday, July 6, 2015

The Secrets We Keep by Stephanie Butland

Title: The Secrets We Keep
Author: Stephanie Butland
Format: ARC
Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark
Publish Date: July 1, 2015
Source: I received a copy from the author; however, this did not affect my review.

What's the Story?:

From "A tragic accident, a broken heart, and a marriage drowning in secrets...

Mike always walks the dog in the evening while Elizabeth relaxes in the bathtub--but one night he doesn’t come back. Mike has drowned while saving a teenage girl named Kate, his dog standing on the bank barking frantically as the police pull his body from the water.

But despite her husband being lauded as a hero, Elizabeth can’t wrap her mind around the fact that Mike is gone--and Kate won’t reveal the details of what really happened that night.

Elizabeth finds herself facing the unfathomable possibility that she may not have known her husband at all. Does she really want to know the truth? Or will the weight of Mike’s secrets pull her under?"

My Two Cents:

In "The Secrets We Keep," Elizabeth's husband, Michael, drowns while saving a nineteen year old girl named Kate. At first, it seems like Michael saved Kate selflessly and sacrificed himself. Then the secrets start coming out. Michael and Kate seem to know each other a little bit more than Elizabeth originally knew. Now Elizabeth can't be sure that she really ever knew her husband. Told through Elizabeth's letters to her dead husband and third person present tense, this book takes a look at what happens and how we cope when we don't really know the people closest to us.

This book was a little bit predictable for me but I still enjoyed it. The story itself is one that has been done a lot: one person in a marriage happens to be carrying on a relationship with another person and their spouse doesn't find out until after they are gone. I did like the addition of Elizabeth's letters to Michael as she starts to unravel the mystery of who he really was. That addition really helped me to get into the book.

The character that we get to know best is Elizabeth. Although this story is told from the third person, we get the best sense of who Elizabeth is and what makes her tick. We the readers don't really get a good picture of what make some of the other characters do what they do in the book. Some of the characters like Michael and Kate seem to be not as clearly described to me and I really wanted to get a little closer to those characters since they made up so much of the story arc in this book. I really wanted to know a little bit more about why they did what they did.

Overall, I found this book to be predictable but still enjoyable. I enjoyed seeing how Elizabeth comes to terms with understanding that the Michael she thought she knew is not really the Michael that existed. This would be a good pick for someone looking for a book  with a familiar story that they can get into easily.


Thursday, July 2, 2015

HNS 2015 Wrap Up!

It's Thursday and I still feel like I am riding the high of the Historical Novel Society Conference. This was second time going to this particular conference and I loved every second of it! The conference was in Denver this year, a place that is very near and dear to my heart. I was actually born in Denver and much of my family still lives in the shadows of the Rockies so I am always anxious to get out there whenever I can! Due to my little girls being back on the East Coast, I spent a very short time in Denver so I could get back home to them. I left midday Thursday and started my return trip Sunday afternoon. It was a short but fantastic time!

The wonderful thing about HNS is that I was surrounded by amazing people who are just as excited as I was about books, historical fiction, history, and a litany of other literary-minded pursuits. Everywhere I turned, there were people that I wanted to meet and talk with. It was so great to be amongst so many fantastic people.

My head is still spinning with everything I experienced and I'm still mulling over everything I heard. This conference was so energizing!

Some of my favorite memories from the conference were:
  • Hanging out with other bookish people. Seriously, it's hard to find people that get as excited about books as I do. To be at a conference filled with people of that persuasion was amazing!
  • Happening to be on the same flight as Stephanie Dray and Eliza Knight both ways (how did that happen???)!
  • I spoke on my very first panel ever! I have been on a mission to get over my fear of public speaking so I have been really trying to push myself to do things that I wouldn't normally do. Speaking on a panel was definitely one of them. I spoke about Trends in Women's Historical fiction with literary agent Kevan Lyon and authors, Kate Quinn and Eliza Knight. Sophie Perinot moderated for us. We had a packed room and a lively discussion! I couldn't ask for anything more!
Here's our panel: Sophie, Kevan, Kate, Eliza, and me!

  • Getting books signed! I was really good this year and only bought a few books! I can't wait to dive into them!
  • Karen Cushman was one of the honored guests at the conference. She wrote "Catherine Called Birdy" and many other YA HistFic books. Catherine has a special place in my heart because aside from the American Girls Doll books, "Catherine Called Birdy" was probably the first histfic book I ever read. I got a copy of Catherine signed for my Katherine and Hadley. Usually I just have to say Katherine with a K and people get it. Hadley seems to be more difficult. I started spelling Hadley and Ms. Cushman stopped me and said "Oh, like Mrs. Hemingway!" These are so my people!!!
  • Hanging out with bloggers! I actually had a lot of time to hang out with other bloggers this time around. I loved meeting Erin of Flashlight Commentary and Jenny of Let Them Read Books for the first time among others. I also loved seeing and visiting with Amy of Passages to the Past, Heather of The Maiden's Court, and Sarah of Reading the Past (sad I didn't get to spend more time with you, Sarah). These are people that I interact a lot with online so it was so nice to see them in real life! They are really amazing people!
  • We also had a really good showing from my local HNS Chesapeake Bay chapter! I even found two new members that had no idea that our chapter existed! Woot!
Many of us gathered for drinks and merriment on Friday night!

There are a couple things that I am hoping are fixed next time. There was a huge issue with the books in the conference bookstore. One of the features was a huge author book signing that was open to the public. Books were being sold onsite by a local bookstore. There was a huge SNAFU and many of the authors' books that were supposed to be there were not there. Because the book store could not get the books themselves, they were trying to get books from other stores in the area, which was not so helpful to authors who had books out for awhile, authors whose books were just about to be released, or authors published by small, indie presses.  I felt sooooo bad for the authors! It was a really horrible thing to happen and something that probably should have been rectified  before the conference. Many of those authors whose books were not able to be obtained by the bookstore could have brought the books themselves... sigh.

All in all though, the conference was really fantastic. The 2016 conference will be held in Oxford, England but unless I win the lottery, I don't think I will be going to that conference. The next conference in North America will happen in 2017 and I cannot wait!!!

Monday, June 29, 2015

Review: Girlboss by Sophia Amoruso

Title: Girlboss
Author: Sophia Amoruso
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: Portfolio
Publish Date: May 6, 2014
Source: Library

What's the Story?:

From "At seventeen, Sophia Amoruso decided to forgo continuing education to pursue a life of hitchhiking, dumpster diving, and petty thievery. Now, at twenty-nine, she is the Founder, CEO, and Creative Director of Nasty Gal, a $100+ million e-tailer that draws A-list publicity and rabid fans for its leading-edge fashion and provocative online persona. Her story is extraordinary—and only part of the appeal of #GIRLBOSS.

This aspirational book doesn’t patronize young women the way many business experts do. Amoruso shows readers how to channel their passion and hard work, while keeping their insecurities from getting in the way. She offers straight talk about making your voice heard and doing meaningful work.

She’s proof that you can be a huge success without giving up your spirit of adventure or distinctive style. As she writes, "I have three pieces of advice I want you to remember: Don’t ever grow up. Don’t become a bore. Don’t let The Man get to you. OK? Cool. Then let’s do this.”"

My Two Cents:

"#GIRLBOSS" is a memoir of sorts by Sophia Amoruso, who is the CEO and founder of Nasty Gal. Nasty Gal, for those of you who are not familiar, is a online retailer that sells vintage clothes and is hugely successful. Told by Amoruso herself, the story is partially the story of how she got to where she is all prior to the age of 30 (super impressive, no?). It's also it meant to be a book to encourage other young women to go for what they want even if it seems like it's not reachable.

I found the book to be really inspiring. I always like reading about success stories of those who are no too much older than I am. The book is written in a fairly informal way and to some degree, it feels as if one of your friends is giving you some heart-to-heart business advice. I liked that style for this particular book because it made it feel a little bit friendlier to me. There is a lot of good advice in this book; however, there is also some advice that does feel a little bit like the same old, same old. That being said, sometimes it really is the same old, same old that will get you to the place that you want to be. Overall, I thought those was a pretty good read especially for those who want some advice but aren't necessarily into delving into more traditional business literature.


Friday, June 26, 2015

Review: Operation Massacre by Rodolfo Walsh

Title: Operation Massacre
Author: Rodolfo Walsh
Format: Paperback
Publisher: Seven Stories Press
Publish Date: 1957
Source: Borrowed

What's the Story?:

From "1956. Argentina has just lost its charismatic president Juán Perón in a military coup, and terror reigns across the land. June 1956: eighteen people are reported dead in a failed Peronist uprising. December 1956: sometime journalist, crime fiction writer, studiedly unpoliticized chess aficionado Rodolfo Walsh learns by chance that one of the executed civilians from a separate, secret execution in June, is alive. He hears that there may be more than one survivor and believes this unbelievable story on the spot. And right there, the monumental classic Operation Massacre is born.

Walsh made it his mission to find not only the survivors but widows, orphans, political refugees, fugitives, alleged informers, and anonymous heroes, in order to determine what happened that night, sending him on a journey that took over the rest of his life.

Originally published in 1957, Operation Massacre thoroughly and breathlessly recounts the night of the execution and its fallout."

My Two Cents: 

"Operation Massacre" takes place during a very dark time in Argentina's history. It is the 1950s and the political establishment has been upended. Charismatic President Juan Peron lost the presidency during a coup. The Peronistas try to stage an uprising, which fails, and journalist, Rodolfo Walsh is at the center of it trying to find out what happened. Walsh uses his skills as a journalist in order to shed some light on what happened during and after the uprising and how it affected the entire country. This is an unflinching true-life account of a country in chaos.

One of my majors in college was International Studies with a focus in Latin America. I am still endlessly fascinated about this area of the world and I am sort of surprised that I didn't come across this book earlier in my studies. I was very happy to be able to borrow it from a friend. It was really interesting to read about this event from a more on-the-ground approach than you would get from a standard history book. Walsh is a very driven individual and really wants to shed light on what happened. He draws on a lot of interviews and first hand accounts of people who were there and witnessed both the uprising and the fallout. I really liked that he focused so heavily on the accounts of people who were actually there and who actually witnessed

In a lot of ways, this book reminded me of Truman Capote's "In Cold Blood" in the way that it was told. It is a gripping story that pulled me in right from the beginning. I love learning history through books like this one as they get you right into the heart of the issue.

The history behind how this book was published is fascinating as well. This was originally published as magazine articles as the magazine was the only one brave enough to publish these stories (this would have been an incredibly controversial work during that time period). It's really fantastic that Walsh's work got published at all as the magazine editor could have just as easily said no for his own protection!

If you're interested in history and especially if you are interested in politics or South America, this is most definitely a worthwhile read!

Thursday, June 25, 2015

#HNS2015 : Almost There!

Today, I am winging my way out to Denver, CO for the 2015 Historical Novel Society Conference. I attended in 2013 and had so much fun. I think you can probably tell from my blog that I read pretty eclectically but my very favorite genre is historical fiction. This conference is truly a treat for me! It is so exciting to be around so many people who love the genre just as much as I do.

I am especially excited this year because I will be on a panel discussing Trends in Historical Women's Fiction with authors Kate Quinn and Eliza Knight as well as literary agent, Kevan Lyon. It's going to be a blast!

Unfortunately, you missed your opportunity to sign up for the conference (it's totally full!!!) but if you happen to be in the Denver area, this year the author signings are free and open to the public. Over 130 authors will be there to sign books from 5 to 7 p.m. on Saturday, June 27th.


 I can't wait to tell you all about the conference when I get back!

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Review: Blackberry Winter by Sarah Jio

Title: Blackberry Winter
Author: Sarah Jio
Format: Paperback
Publisher: Plume
Publish Date: September 1, 2012
Source: Library

What's the Story?:

From "Seattle, 1933. Single mother Vera Ray kisses her three-year-old son, Daniel, goodnight and departs to work the night-shift at a local hotel. She emerges to discover that a May-Day snow has blanketed the city, and that her son has vanished. Outside, she finds his beloved teddy bear lying face-down on an icy street, the snow covering up any trace of his tracks, or the perpetrator's.

Seattle, 2010. Seattle Herald reporter Claire Aldridge, assigned to cover the May 1 "blackberry winter" storm and its twin, learns of the unsolved abduction and vows to unearth the truth. In the process, she finds that she and Vera may be linked in unexpected ways..."

My Two Cents:

I had really been wanting to read something by Sarah Jio for awhile. All of her books have sounded so good to me and I really wanted to see what they were all about. I came across "Blackberry Winter" at the library and when I read what the story was about, I knew I had to read it. I can tell you I was not disappointed!

"Blackberry Winter" is the story of two women in two different times. There is Vera, a woman in the 1930s who is struggling to care for her young son and to make ends meet. There is Claire, a woman in present day Seattle who is struggling to make her marriage work after tragedy strikes. Claire is a reporter and finds herself following a lead about a cold case involving the disappearance of a child.

Time split books can be hit or miss for me. In the case of this book, it worked really well. There were so many different surprises throughout this book and real connections between the women that it just worked really well. Jio gives you just enough about the connection between the women to keep you reading just. one. more. page (this book was really hard to put down because of that)! The way that she was able to connect everything at the very end was thoroughly delicious.

I also really liked both of the characters in this book and found them equally interesting. I felt for both of the characters. Both are dealing with very different situations but both situations center on children and what it means to be a parent. Both of the characters felt really real to me. Vera was so interesting to me. She is out on her own during a time when it was really difficult for a woman to make her own way. Claire is dealing with her problems by throwing herself into her work. She eventually realizes that she has to deal with her problems and she can't hide any longer!

I know that this is not the last time I read a book by Sarah Jio!


Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Odds and Ends: Two Months Gone

When I was still pregnant, I had a lot of people tell me that once the girls were here, time would go by with warp speed. I believed them but I guess I didn't think about just how quickly it would feel like time was going. As of last week, we now have two very sweet two month olds. I am lucky enough to still be home with them but much too quickly those days and hours seem to be winnowing away as well.

Every day they seem to be changing. They are reacting a little bit more to things. They finally started smiling last week and it melts my heart every single time.

Whenever anyone asks about our girls, it feels like they want us to be frantic and crazed. With two little ones, I am definitely busy but these girls are amazingly good. It's as if they know that preserving Mom's nerves is a good thing. They're just really content little babies. They eat. They sleep. They are healthy. We have them on a good schedule. I feel like I've been knocking on every piece of wood that I happen upon because I know how lucky we are and I know that it could all turn around in an instant! Even the somewhat frustrating days are still pretty good.

If so much has changed in two months, where in the world are we going to be in three months???

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