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Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Review: Lies We Tell Ourselves by Robin Talley

Title: Lies We Tell Ourselves
Author: Robin Talley
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: Harlequin Teen
Publish Date: September 30, 2014
Source: Library

What's the Story?:

From "In 1959 Virginia, the lives of two girls on opposite sides of the battle for civil rights will be changed forever.

Sarah Dunbar is one of the first black students to attend the previously all-white Jefferson High School. An honors student at her old school, she is put into remedial classes, spit on and tormented daily.

Linda Hairston is the daughter of one of the town's most vocal opponents of school integration. She has been taught all her life that the races should be kept separate but equal.

Forced to work together on a school project, Sarah and Linda must confront harsh truths about race, power and how they really feel about one another."

My Two Cents:

"Lies We Tell Ourselves" is a historical fiction story that takes place in 1959 Virginia. Schools are just becoming desegregated and as Virginia is in the south, desegregation does not come as easily as it should. The high school where Sarah and Linda attend is especially having difficulty integrating the school peacefully. Sarah is one of the first black students to ever go to this particular high school. Linda is white and her parents to believe that school should not be desegregated.

Going to school where everyone didn't look the same as I did is something that I have always taken for granted. I went to school in Maryland, Virginia's next-door neighbor so seeing what it was like so close to where I grew up just a few decades ago really hit home for me. The news today still has strong undertones of various groups feeling like they are superior to others and wanting to be separate. This book shows us how far we've come but how far we still have to go is striking.

I think it is so important for everyone, particularly young people, to remember that things now are not the way that they were in the past. When you see schools today they're much different than they were back in the late 1950s. It's important for people to remember that there used to be segregation and that it took a long time for schools to come to where they are today.

There is a lot of tough subject matter in this book and the author handles it well without beating the reader over the head so much that the book becomes uninteresting. I think it's so important for young adult fiction to tackle some of these difficult subjects like racism as well as LGBT rights. I thought that the author did a great job of leading the reader throughout this book in a way that makes them both interested in and understanding of the struggles of these characters without hitting people over the head with the lessons found within this book. This was a good story even for those like me who are a little older than the group that this YA book is geared for.


Monday, March 27, 2017

Review: It Happens All the Time by Amy Hatvany

Title: It Happens All the Time
Author: Amy Hatvany
Publisher: Atria
Publish Date: March 28, 2017
Source: Publisher

What's the Story?:

From "Amber Bryant and Tyler Hicks have been best friends since they were teenagers—trusting and depending on each other through some of the darkest periods of their young lives. And while Amber has always felt that their relationship is strictly platonic, Tyler has long harbored the secret desire that they might one day become more than friends.

Returning home for the summer after her college graduation, Amber begins spending more time with Tyler than she has in years. Despite the fact that Amber is engaged to her college sweetheart, a flirtation begins to grow between them. One night, fueled by alcohol and concerns about whether she’s getting married too young, Amber kisses Tyler.

What happens next will change them forever."

My Two Cents:

"It Happens All the Time" is the story of Amber and Tyler. They have been friends for years and Tyler has always had a thing for Amber. Amber can't see anything ever happening romantically with Tyler; he's her best friend and that is the way that she wants it to stay. Tyler becomes a paramedic in their hometown and Amber graduates from college and comes home to work for the summer. She comes home engaged, which makes Tyler incredibly jealous and sad. He has a choice of what he does when it comes to Amber and what he does next will break everything.

One of the things that I love about books so much is that they give you the ability to see really difficult subjects through the eyes of someone going through them. This is one of those books. Told from both Amber and Tyler's perspectives, this book sheds light on both rape and sexual assault. Both characters see the same situation very differently, which is scary when the situation is so serious and someone gets so badly hurt. I think it is important for books to tackle subjects like this!

The writing of the book was good. The story is told from both Amber and Tyler's perspectives. They see what happens on one night when they were both very drunk very differently. Amber is raped. Tyler can't believe that he would rape his best friend and is severe denial. It was so interesting to see how the characters see things and what makes them tick and make the decisions they make throughout the book. I did want to know more about how Tyler is able to absolve himself from what he did but then again, what reason could there really have been. Overall, this was a very powerful book.  

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Review: Our Own Private Universe by Robin Talley

Title: Our Own Private Universe
Author: Robin Talley
Format: ARC
Publisher: Harlequin Teen
Publish Date: January 31, 2017
Source: PR

What's the Story?:

From "Fifteen-year-old Aki Simon has a theory. And it's mostly about sex.

No, it isn't that kind of theory. Aki already knows she's bisexual—even if, until now, it's mostly been in the hypothetical sense. Aki has dated only guys so far, and her best friend, Lori, is the only person who knows she likes girls, too.

Actually, Aki's theory is that she's got only one shot at living an interesting life—and that means she's got to stop sitting around and thinking so much. It's time for her to actually do something. Or at least try.

So when Aki and Lori set off on a church youth-group trip to a small Mexican town for the summer and Aki meets Christa—slightly older, far more experienced—it seems her theory is prime for the testing.

But it's not going to be easy. For one thing, how exactly do two girls have sex, anyway? And more important, how can you tell if you're in love? It's going to be a summer of testing theories—and the result may just be love."

My Two Cents:

"Our Own Private Universe" is another book by Robin Talley. It takes place in the present day when few groups of teenage churchgoers go to Mexico to help out in the community. Aki is the preacher's daughter and has just figured out that she may be bisexual. She falls in love with Christa, a girl who seems to have a little more experience. Both of them will have to come to terms with what it means to be "out" even if those in their church or their families don't understand or support it.

I've enjoyed Talley's other books. This one was just okay for me. There was a little bit of stereotyping in the book that really took me out of the book and made me wonder if the stereotyping came from the characters in the book simply being naïve and not having been not having been around a lot of gay people before because of the kind of social circle that they're in their church or what. For instance, Aki justifies thinking that a secondary character in the book is gay because she wears board shorts everywhere.

As with Talley's other books, this book had a focus on some serious topics. One of the stand out topics in this book was the focus on safe sex. Aki really wants to make sure that the sex she has with Christa is safe. The book points out that Aki is totally perplexed by what constitutes safe sex between two females as all of the sex ed she had in school focused on male/ female sex. I appreciated the way that the author tried to teach this lesson. It was a bit overwrought but the point certainly gets across. I do think it's important for young adult readers to be able to encounter all sorts of subjects through their reading and can appreciate where Talley was trying to go. 


Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Review: Girl in Disguise by Greer Macallister

Title: Girl in Disguise
Author: Greer Macallister 
Format: ARC
Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark
Publish Date: March 21, 2017 (Today!)
Source: Publisher

What's the Story?:

From "For the first female Pinkerton detective, respect is hard to come by. Danger, however, is not.

In the tumultuous years of the Civil War, the streets of Chicago offer a woman mostly danger and ruin-unless that woman is Kate Warne, the first female Pinkerton detective and a desperate widow with a knack for manipulation.

Descending into undercover operations, Kate is able to infiltrate the seedy side of the city in ways her fellow detectives can't. She's a seductress, an exotic foreign medium, or a rich train passenger, all depending on the day and the robber, thief, or murderer she's been assigned to nab."

My Two Cents:

"Girl in Disguise" is the story of Kate, who lives in the mid-1800s and suddenly finds herself a widow in the middle of Chicago. Being a widow at this time was incredibly difficult because it meant that there was little you could do as a woman to make a living. With nothing left to do, she decides to follow her dreams and walk into the Pinkerton Detective Agency. This famous agency was involved with so many cases during that time period!

Being a detective was definitely something that most women weren't allowed to do at the time but as readers quickly find out in this book, Kate is not someone who takes no for an answer. In order to prove her mettle, she has to take on a case that can put her in some danger without her being able to know whether or not she will have a place at the agency. The author does a great job of bringing this danger to life with good detail.

This book follows Kate through several cases, many of them which will be very interesting to history lovers. For instance, Kate is charged with getting President-elect Abraham Lincoln to his inauguration safely. It requires that not only Kate go in disguise but that President Lincoln get on a train in disguise as well. It's one of those true history stories that almost seems unbelievable. I had to look up what actually happened right after finishing the book and I think any book that can get you interested in continuing to do research is a good one. Kate is a fascinating character and I love the way that the author was able to bring this person who is not particularly well-known to life!


Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Review: Wildly Into the Dark: Typewriter Poems and the Rattlings of a Curious Mind by Tyler Knott Gregson

Title: Wildly Into the Dark: Typewriter Poems and the Rattlings of a Curious Mind
Author: Tyler Knott Gregson
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: Tarcher Perigree
Publish Date: March 28, 2017 (Next Week!)
Source: Publisher

What's the Story?:

From "With loyal fans around the world and across the internet, Tyler Knott Gregson is reinventing poetry for a new generation, using Instagram and Tumblr to reach readers where they are.
Tyler's third collection includes more of his popular Typewriter Series poems (featured in his first book, Chasers of the Light) as well as never-before-published scenes that paint the world as only Tyler sees and experiences it. Filled with vivid photographs and even more vivid emotions, Wildly Into the Dark is a must-have for longtime fans as well as newcomers to Tyler's unique brand of passionate, intimate, and playful words and images."

My Two Cents:

"Wildly into the Dark" is the new book by author Tyler Knott Gregson. It's his third book of poetry and it touches on everything from love to nature to travel. Some of the poems are incredibly personal and intimate and he has a great way of reaching out to the reader from the pages and making the reader feel like he's talking directly to them.

This book is so much more than just a poetry book though. Gregson is also a great photographer and puts a lot of his photography in this book. The photographs are mostly of nature and beautiful scenery. The pictures are special by themselves but combined with the words of the poems, it becomes something more powerful.

The other thing that is special about this book is that many of the poems are typed out by typewriter on old random pieces of paper. That probably doesn't sound particularly exciting but it makes the poems feel a little more special like a connection between the past and the present.

This is the first book that I've read by Gregson but I would love to go back and read some of his other poetry because I enjoyed that so much. One of the other things that I want to mention about this book is that $1 from the pre-orders of this book are going to help support their organization To Write Love on Her Arms, an organization dedicated to helping those with mental illness especially depression. It's a great cause and that only makes this book more special!

Monday, March 20, 2017

Review: The Confessions of Young Nero by Margaret George

Title: The Confessions of Young Nero
Author: Margaret George 
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: Berkley Books
Publish Date: March 7, 2017
Source: Publisher

What's the Story?:

From "Built on the backs of those who fell before it, Julius Caesar's imperial dynasty is only as strong as the next person who seeks to control it. In the Roman Empire no one is safe from the sting of betrayal: man, woman or child.

As a boy, Nero's royal heritage becomes a threat to his very life, first when the mad emperor Caligula tries to drown him, then when his great aunt attempts to secure her own son's inheritance. Faced with shocking acts of treachery, young Nero is dealt a harsh lesson: it is better to be cruel than dead.

While Nero idealizes the artistic and athletic principles of Greece, his very survival rests on his ability to navigate the sea of vipers that is Rome. The most lethal of all is his own mother, a cold-blooded woman whose singular goal is to control the empire. With cunning and poison, the obstacles fall one by one. But as Agrippina's machinations earn her son a title he is both tempted and terrified to assume, Nero's determination to escape her thrall will shape him into the man he was fated to become, an Emperor who became legendary."

My Two Cents:

"The Confessions of Young Nero" is the latest book from Margaret George, one of my very favorite historical fiction writers. Historical fiction lovers know that when you read a book by Margaret George, you're in for real treat. This book is definitely no different! I enjoyed this story and was very excited to see that this is only George's first book in a planned series on Nero.

In this book, George takes us back to ancient Rome, to when Nero the infamous Emperor is still a young boy. Even though he's very young in this book, he is still involved with some of the palace intrigue that seems to go along with being in ancient Rome. Not only is Nero fascinating but some of the secondary characters really add to the book. His mother is bent on ensuring that he will one day become emperor and that she will reap the benefits of his power. She is definitely an interesting character and one that I would want to stay far, far away from her in real life as she seems to have a tendency to get upset when things don't go her way and try to poison people. There is poison and plots galore throughout this book.

This book covers from when Nero was a young boy to when he becomes Emperor and the few years after that. This book is supposed to be the first in a duology or series from George on Nero. One thing that I really like that George does with this book is she is able to humanize and give good insight into Nero.  Being a history lover, I had heard a lot of things about Nero. You hear all sorts of stories about the kind of person that he was (not usually positive) and George gives him some humanity and somewhat of a explanation as to why he was the way that he was.

The detail in the story is a true treat! As with George's other books she spends a lot of time coming up with the great detail in order to give the reader a full body experience when reading this book. I thoroughly enjoyed this book but I'm kind of sad but I've already read it and now have to wait for its companion. The wait will be well worth it as I am excited to finish this great story!


Friday, March 17, 2017

Author Guest Post and Giveaway: Eva Stachniak

I am so very pleased to welcome Eva Stachniak here to A Bookish Affair. I loved her Catherine the Great books and if you saw my review yesterday, you know I enjoyed her latest, The Chosen Maiden!

Where do new novels come from?
    Mine often develop from fragments of the previous ones, a scene cut short, a thought abandoned because it doesn’t quite fit. So it doesn’t surprise me that I can trace the first stirrings of The Chosen Maiden to The Winter Palace, to the research I did on a Viennese dance-master preparing Catherine the Great’s son, future Paul I, for a ballet performance at the Hermitage. My notes from the time contain remarks on the close relationship between the Imperial court and Russian ballet, and a reminder to take a closer look at the Artists of the Imperial Theatres, especially at the time when Catherine’s legacy was coming to its violent end. I did take a closer look, and this is when I came face to face with Bronia Nijinska, a brilliant dancer and choreographer who came of age just as the Imperial Ballet, once an obedient and obliging child of the court, broke into open revolt and began to assert its own vision of how Russian art should evolve.
    What drew me to Bronia? There was, of course, the tantalizing connection to her beloved elder brother, Vaslav, the God of the Dance (he was her mentor but she was the best interpreter of his choreography). There was the Polish connection (both Nijinsky parents came to Russia from Poland and Polish was Bronia’s mother tongue). There were her choreographic visions forged in the cauldron of revolutionary Russian art which secured her a firm place in the history of modern dance. But, in the end, as I pored over the treasures of the The Bronislava Nijinska Archives at the Library of Congress—boxes of intimate diaries, letters, notes and hundreds of snapshots she took of her family and friends—that the two main themes of The Chosen Maiden began to emerge: art as the source of inner strength, and the steadfast solidarity of the three generations of the Nijinsky women.
    It was Bronia’s passionate belief in the power of art that gave her strength to fight for her own place first in the Imperial Theatres of St. Petersburg and then in the predominantly male focused Ballet Russes. It was art that stoked her resilience at the times when others told her she didn’t have the body of a ballerina or that she should content herself with interpreting her brother’s visions and not bother with her own. It was art that gave her the courage to resist the repressive regimes determined to engineer her soul. And, in the end, it was art that made her pick herself up after each paralyzing loss life dealt her and to keep on fighting.
    But art would not have been enough to protect her from defeat, not without the fierce power and loyalty of the Nijinsky women.
    For as the men are erased from the family story by choice or by cruel fate, it is the women, Eleanora, Bronia and Bronia’s daughter Irina, grandmother, mother and daughter, who take their place. Proud and strong, steadfast, nurturing and fiercely loyal, they stand by each other, even in the hardest of circumstances. As the world around them is torn apart by wars and revolutionary upheavals, they know that they cannot afford to be weak. The existence of their family depends on them.
    This is a story which most Eastern European families, including my own, know by heart.   
    And so as soon as the plot of The Chosen Maiden began to take shape in my mind I found myself transported to the arms of the Polish women of my childhood, my own grandmother and mother. They too were brave, nurturing, tough as nails, stoic in their assessment of the dangers and possibilities of salvation, determined to wrench any chance they could from the little that they had. Born in what would one day be called the Bloodlands of Europe, between them they lived through two world wars, a revolution, a Nazi occupation and years of communist repression. Having experienced staggering losses they still found a way to keep me safe and hopeful.
    If the door closes, climb through the window. You fell? Pick yourself up and keep going. We’ve come through worse times and we didn’t give up. Stop crying and try harder. Resist when fighting is not possible. Remember, we are watching you.
    These voices are still in my head. Voices I am still grateful for.


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