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Thursday, November 22, 2018


Happy Thanksgiving, friends! May your day be filled with loved ones, warm thoughts, yummy food, and of course, books!

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

HFVBT Review: Imperial Passions: The Porta Aurea by Eileen Stephenson

Title: Imperial Passions: The Porta Aurea
Author: Eileen Stephenson
Format: Paperback
Publisher: Eileen Iciek
Publish Date: April 24, 2018
Source: HFVBT

What's the Story?:

From "At the center of Byzantine society, fifteen-year old orphaned Anna Dalassena lives with her grandparents among the most powerful men and women in Constantinople. But the cutthroat politics of the Great Palace sends the family into exile in a distant corner of the empire. Her bleak situation finally turns promising after meeting a handsome young soldier, John Comnenus, and his brother Isaac, before they are finally permitted to return home.

The vicious power struggles, uprisings, and betrayals at the highest levels of the empire push Anna and John unwillingly into its center as they struggle to deal with their own tragedies. When rebellion puts her life and those of everyone she loves at risk, is the reward-- a throne for her family--too big a gamble?"

My Two Cents:

"Imperial Passions: The Porta Aurea" is the story of Anna. Although when the book opens, Anna is an orphan, her star rises throughout the book. Taking place in the 11th century Byzantine Empire, this book is full of palace intrigue and interesting characters. Anna is a great character to follow through all of the difficulties that her family faces. I really enjoyed this book!

Anna and the other secondary characters were great. I loved seeing how things shifted for Anna and her family throughout the book. We get to see the triumphs and the tragedies. I loved following Anna. Although on the surface, particularly in the beginning of the book, it doesn't seem like Anna has much of a choice rather than following wherever the wind might take her but we soon see that she understands her power well and is able to use it in such a way to move through the world successfully. 

I loved all of the drama of the book. Anna and her family are intrinsically connected to the leaders and politics of the day and this really drives the story line throughout the book. Although this is quite a large book, reading about the intricate power struggles of the Byzantine Empire kept me interested and wanting to see how things turned out for some key characters.

This was a fascinating book! I don't know much about the Byzantine Empire during this time period and I loved the way that Stephenson used historical detail to create a very vivid setting, which I loved. I was impressed with how much historical detail the author was able to pack in without the book feeling like a laundry list of what Anna's world was like. This is a great book with fantastic detail! What a treat for historical fiction lovers!

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Review: New Erotica for Feminists by Caitlin Kunkel, Brooke Preston, Fiona Taylor, and Carrie Wittmer

Title: New Erotica for Feminists
Authors: Caitlin Kunkel, Brooke Preston, Fiona Taylor, and Carrie Wittmer
Format: Paperback
Publisher: Plume
Publish Date: November 13, 2018
Source: Publisher

What's the Story?:

From "Imagine a world where erotica was written by feminists: Their daydreams include equal pay, a gender-balanced Congress, and Tom Hardy arriving at their doorstep to deliver a fresh case of LaCroix every week.

Both light-hearted and empowering, New Erotica for Feminists is a sly, satirical take on all the things that turn feminists on. From a retelling of Adam and Eve to tales of respectful Tinder dates, New Erotica for Feminists answers the question of “What do women really want?” with stories of power, equality, and an immortal Ruth Bader Ginsburg."

My Two Cents:

"New Erotica for Feminists" is a hilarious collection of stories and vignettes. It's a really quick read but it's very funny. It's broken into several different topical sections. My favorites were the literary and parenting sections. I know this is a book that I will go back to and plan on getting for a few of my friends as a stocking stuffer this year. It's a lot of fun!


Monday, November 19, 2018

Review: Raven Dock by Sara Caldwell

Title: Raven Dock
Author: Sara Caldwell
Format: Paperback
Publisher: White Bird Publications
Publish Date: October 2, 2018
Source: Author

What's the Story?:

From "Seventeen-year-old Harper Duncan never fit in anywhere her family moved…and they moved a lot. But after her parents and brother die in a tragic accident, she finds out she’s adopted, and her birth mother lives in a remote retreat called Raven Dock. Harper ventures north and discovers a dark family secret: her birth mother is a witch. And she’s one too. As Harper Learns about her own hidden powers, will she choose to embrace her chilling heritage, or return to the safety of the ordinary world?"

My Two Cents:

"Raven Dock" is the story of Harper, a teenager who loses her family in a tragic accident. Harper thinks that she is all alone until her mysterious aunt reenters her life. Harper goes to live at remote Raven Dock where things are not always what they seem. Harper will uncover a lot of secrets of her own origins! This book is a promising start to a planned series but I wanted a little more detail.

The story line of this book is intriguing. I always like a good fish-out-of-water story and you definitely get that with Harper. She has absolutely no idea that her birth mother was a witch and that she may have powers herself. She didn't know about her aunt and had always thought that it was her immediate family that she had in the world. I also liked Raven Dock itself, a super mysterious place that added a good dose of atmosphere to the book.

In many ways, this book felt like an introduction and sort of an appetizer to a much larger story. It is a very short book and so I felt like there could have been room for more detail and more exploration of Harper's background and origin. I wanted a little more detail to go on. There are a lot of set ups for really interesting backstories into the witches and what it means for Harper that she is a descendant of witches. I wanted to know more about the legends behind it. It will be interesting to see where the story goes from here!


Thursday, November 15, 2018

Review: Wherever You Are: A Memoir of Love, Marriage, and Brain Injury by Cynthia Lim

Title: Wherever You Are: A Memoir of Love, Marriage, and Brain Injury
Author: Cynthia Lim
Format: Paperback
Publisher: Camel Press
Publish Date: September 1, 2018
Source: Publisher

What's the Story?:

From "Cynthia Lim thought she had the perfect life: a husband who was a successful attorney, a fulfilling career in education, two teenage sons in private school, and a home in Los Angeles rich in books, music, and art. Then in 2003, her husband Perry suffers a cardiac arrest and brain injury, lingering in a coma for ten days before slowly awakening. A different person emerges, one who has lost his short-term memory and is fully dependent on others. Married for twenty years, she doesn't know how much of his former self will return as she fights for the treatment and care he needs.

She struggles with caregiving and working full-time while finding connection with the man she once knew and loved, whose brain will never again function as it did before. While wrestling with the urge to leave him in an institution and walk away, she discovers the strength and resolve that will allow her to build a new life. Wherever You Are is the story of a marriage after a spouse is forever changed by a catastrophic event. It is a story of redefining life with disability and discovering the real truth of love and marriage."

My Two Cents:

In "Wherever You Are," Cynthia Lim and her husband seem to lead a pretty good life. When a sudden health situation leaves her husband with a brain injury where one of the major symptoms severe short term memory loss, Lim discovers her own resilience and strength to come to terms with her and her husband's "new normal." This is a powerful memoir!

This memoir goes through everything that Cynthia and Perry, her husband, go through. Everything is covered from what happened to Perry to Cynthia having to navigate a new life and figure out how best she can care for her beloved husband. Caretaking is a very difficult job under any circumstances but Lim captures how difficult it is to be a caretaker for someone who once was self-sufficient. Lim also has to learn to be a partner to someone with whom she once had a very equal partnership with but that is no longer possible.

The writing is good. This is a hard subject and I did find myself wanting more detail on thoughts and feelings happening throughout the events in the book rather than just what was happening. This is a heart-wrenching story and I think it will be helpful to so many to have such a great example of strength!

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

HFVBT Interview: Carrie Callaghan, Author of "A Light of Her Own"

I am thrilled to welcome Carrie Callaghan, author of "A Light of Her Own" here to A Bookish Affair!

What inspired you to write "A Light of Her Own?"

Judith’s self-portrait. My writing is just an excuse for me to research the heck out of something, and when I first saw her paintings in 2009, on the occasion of her 400th birthday, I was smitten. I needed to learn about this woman who painted with such passion, and how she succeeded at a time I thought of as being hostile to women. I learned, in the course of my research, that gender roles were a lot more complicated than I had assumed.

What was your favorite scene in the book to write?

I love the moment when Judith applies for membership in the Guild. Crowd scenes are a major challenge – figuring out how to help the reader keep track of a bunch of new faces is hard. But I also love the swirl of political ambition, hostility, and support that surrounds Judith as she’s putting herself out there for this most terrifying moment. And of course, I love the painting that she selects as her application piece. (When I wrote that scene, I had to guess which painting she used. Later, I spoke to a leading scholar who told me that recent scholarship indicated that she had indeed used the painting I had guessed!)

Who is your favorite character in this book and why?

I love Judith for her dedication and her spirit, but I am probably most like Maria, with her deep emotions and propensity toward self-doubt. I’m going to cheat a little here and say my favorite character is their friendship – the complicated love, anger, and support that arise between them.

What was the strangest/ most interesting thing you found in your research?

The small details of daily life four hundred years before our times are, of course, drastically different from our own electrified, internet-bound, modern lives. Even though I knew that their lives would have a different rhythm than ours, I was still surprised by some of the small things I learned in my research. How going out after dark was virtually impossible, and anyone out after a certain time was required to have a lantern. And that lantern didn’t have glass panes, like we might imagine, but tin walls with punctures to let the light shine through. Or how door decorations advertised both new births and stillbirths.

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

If I were a braver person than I am, I’d swipe three modern-day villains away from their current
misdeeds and drop them onto my island, where their evil could be constrained. But more likely, in
the selfish hopes of some good conversation and an eventual rescue, I’d bring the poet Sappho
(assuming I can understand her ancient Greek) to tell me what life was life two thousand years ago,
Langston Hughes to compare poetry with Sappho, and Falkor (the dragon from The Neverending
Story) to fly us away. What do you mean Falkor’s not a person? Oh, fine. Svanhild from Linnea
Hartsuyker’s The Sea Queen, to help us build a ship, sail away, and fight any pirates who get in our

(Note from Meg: Falkor TOTALLY counts!!!)

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

HFVBT Review: A Light of Her Own by Carrie Callaghan

Title: A Light of Her Own
Author: Carrie Callaghan 
Format: ARC
Publisher: Amberjack Publishing
Publish Date: November 13, 2018
Source: HFVBT

What's the Story?:

From "In Holland 1633, a woman’s ambition has no place.

Judith is a painter, dodging the law and whispers of murder to become the first woman admitted to the prestigious Haarlem artist’s guild. Maria is a Catholic in a country where the faith is banned, hoping to absolve her sins by recovering a lost saint’s relic.

Both women’s destinies will be shaped by their ambitions, running counter to the city’s most powerful men, whose own plans spell disaster. A vivid portrait of a remarkable artist, A Light of Her Own is a richly-woven story of grit against the backdrop of Rembrandts and repressive religious rule."

My Two Cents:

In "A Light of Her Own," it's 1633 and Judith Leyster dreams of being admitted to the Haarlem artist's guild. Although this would be quite a feat for a woman, Judith isn't fazed. She is secure enough in her skill that she believes she is worthy of such an honor and will do what she must to realize this dream. Being able to get into the guild would have been an incredible boon for any artist, let alone a woman artist. I loved getting to know Judith on her journey through this book!

I have always liked Judith Leyster's self portrait, which hangs in the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. Admittedly, the Dutch masters are not my favorite (I may struck with lightning with that disclosure, no?). So many of the portraits while realistic seem sort of dark and perhaps a bit drab to me. Leyster's self-portrait has a spark that makes the painting of her painting really interesting to me. She has a gleam in her eye and I thought that the author did a good job of capturing that light and that drive that shines through Leyster's paintings, particularly her self-portrait.

This book has so much going for it. You all know that I love historical fiction but I particularly love historical fiction when it includes art. I love the stories behind all of the paintings we know and love. I loved seeing Judith's story. She has to be very strategic throughout the book in order to follow her dreams in a time where women were supposed to be in the home. There is a great feminist theme present here, which is very much down my alley. I loved following her journey!

Another thing that I really liked in this book was the friendship between Judith and Maria. Both women are struggling with different problems but they are able to come together and support each other. This book had a very nice rumination on the importance of friendship. I thought the author did a good job of capturing the thoughts and feelings of both women.

Overall, this was a good book and a great debut! It will be such a treat for my fellow historical fiction lovers.

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