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Tuesday, May 24, 2016

HF Virtual Book Tours Review: Marlene by C.W. Gortner

Title: Marlene
Author: C.W. Gortner
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: William Morrow
Publish Date: May 24, 2016
Source: HF Virtual Book Tours

What's the Story?:

From "Raised in genteel poverty after the first World War, Maria Magdalena Dietrich dreams of a life on the stage. When a budding career as a violinist is cut short, the willful teenager vows to become a singer, trading her family’s proper, middle class society for the free-spirited, louche world of Weimar Berlin’s cabarets and drag balls. With her sultry beauty, smoky voice, seductive silk cocktail dresses, and androgynous tailored suits, Marlene performs to packed houses, and becomes entangled in a series of stormy love affairs that push the boundaries of social convention. 

For the beautiful, desirous Lili Marlene, neither fame nor marriage and motherhood can cure her wanderlust. As Hitler and the Nazis rise to power, she sets sail for America. Rivaling the success of another European import, Greta Garbo, Marlene quickly becomes one of Hollywood’s leading ladies, starring with legends such as Gary Cooper, John Wayne, and Cary Grant. Desperate for her return, Hitler tries to lure her with dazzling promises. Marlene instead chooses to become an American citizen, and after her new nation is forced into World War II, tours with the USO, performing for thousands of Allied troops in Europe and Africa. 

But one day she will return to Germany. Escorted by General George Patton himself, Marlene is heartbroken by the war’s devastation and the evil legacy of the Third Reich that has transformed her homeland and the family she loved. "

My Two Cents:

Prior to reading this book, I basically knew that Marlene Dietrich was an Old Hollywood star (with absolutely stunning bone structure) who was originally from Germany - not much at all. In this book, C.W. Gortner breathes life into this woman and shows why she is still so well remembered by so many. She is  a fascinating person and it easy to see why she makes such a great subject for this historical fiction. 

The book is told from the perspective of Marlene. I absolutely loved being able to really step into her shoes through this book and see what she saw. Marlene does a lot of living, particularly in the earlier years of her life and it was great to see it through her eyes and to hear her explain what she was going through and what she was thinking. The book starts during her very early life as a schoolgirl in Germany so we get to know her well before she became a Hollywood siren. I loved how Gortner shows her progression from a rather shy young girl to someone who isn't afraid to put herself out there. She indulges in many pleasures throughout her young life. Her rise to Hollywood was also wonderful to read about.

I've read several of Gortner's books before and I love his way with words. He does a great job of creating very unique voices for his characters and making them incredibly memorable. By the end of the book, Marlene felt incredibly intimate to me and this book only whetted my appetite to read more about her in the future. The descriptions are a true treat for my fellow historical fiction fans!

Monday, May 23, 2016

Review: The Only Thing Worse Than Me Is You by Lily Anderson

Title: The Only Thing Worse Than Me Is You
Author: Lily Anderson
Format: Ebook
Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin
Publish Date: May 17, 2016
Source: Publisher

What's the Story?:

From "Trixie Watson has two very important goals for senior year: to finally save enough to buy the set of Doctor Who figurines at the local comic books store, and to place third in her class and knock Ben West--and his horrendous new mustache that he spent all summer growing--down to number four.

Trixie will do anything to get her name ranked over Ben's, including give up sleep and comic books--well, maybe not comic books--but definitely sleep. After all, the war of Watson v. West is as vicious as the Doctor v. Daleks and Browncoats v. Alliance combined, and it goes all the way back to the infamous monkey bars incident in the first grade. Over a decade later, it's time to declare a champion once and for all.

The war is Trixie's for the winning, until her best friend starts dating Ben's best friend and the two are unceremoniously dumped together and told to play nice. Finding common ground is odious and tooth-pullingly-painful, but Trixie and Ben's cautious truce slowly transforms into a fandom-based tentative friendship. When Trixie's best friend gets expelled for cheating and Trixie cries foul play, however, they have to choose who to believe and which side they're on--and they might not pick the same side."

My Two Cents:

"The Only Thing Worse Than Me is You" is a sparkling YA book loosely based on Shakespeare's "Much Ado About Nothing." I am always drawn to retellings because they can shed new light on old favorites. I was interested to see how the author would take on this classic and she does it well. This book follows a group of super smart high school students focused on rank at their elite school. Trixie is in a fight to the finish to maintain her rank and is hoping that there is nothing that will sideline her and take her focus.

Trixie is such a great character. I really appreciated that she reveled in her wit and intellect. She is smart and has no qualms about showing it. I really liked how her character grew throughout the book. She starts realizing a lot of herself throughout the story arc. The secondary characters were great as well. 

Probably my favorite part of this book is the dialogue. Anderson has a great ear for sparkling, interesting dialogue and had a great way of making the characters each have their own voice. The banter moves quickly and is full of interesting turns of phrase that kept me reading. The writing of the book was great! Overall, I thought this was a great YA read!

Friday, May 20, 2016

Blog Tour Review: Summer Days & Summer Nights: Twelve Love Stories by Stephanie Perkins and Many More!

Title: Summer Days & Summer Nights: Twelve Love Stories
Authors: Stephanie Perkins, Leigh Bardugo, Francesca Lia Block, Libba Bray, Cassandra Clare, Brandy Colbert, Tim Federle, Lev Grossman, Nina Lacour, Veronica Roth, Jon Skovron, Jennifer E. Smith
Format: Ebook (Netgalley)
Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin
Publish Date: May 17, 2016
Source: Publisher

What's the Story?:

From "Maybe it's the long, lazy days, or maybe it's the heat making everyone a little bit crazy. Whatever the reason, summer is the perfect time for love to bloom. Summer Days & Summer Nights: Twelve Love Stories, written by twelve bestselling young adult writers and edited by the international bestselling author Stephanie Perkins, will have you dreaming of sunset strolls by the lake. So set out your beach chair and grab your sunglasses. You have twelve reasons this summer to soak up the sun and fall in love."

My Two Cents:

With the weather having been rainy and rather cool here in the D.C. area for the past few weeks, it has been so hard for me to remember that summer is just around the corner. This book was a great reminder for me. There are tons of great authors in this book. Some I've read before (Stephanie Perkins) and others I've wanted to try (Leigh Bardugo, Nina Lacour, etc.). This was a great book to get back to some great authors while trying new authors. This book captures a lot of the carefree summer days of my teenage years. 

All of the stories are varied and feature lots of different love stories. As someone who truly believes in the "We Need Diverse" books movement, I was thrilled to see some diverse characters throughout this book. Sometimes I feel like the YA world is way more forward leaning on this than the adult world! There were so many of the stories that I really enjoyed. Each one is different and has some really good characters. I loved Leigh Bardugo's book which had an amazing dose of magical realism - very cool!

The collection of authors here includes some of the top names in YA today. It is impressive to see these authors all together. All of the writers write in different ways but are great in their own ways. This is the perfect book to prepare for the warmer times ahead!

Thursday, May 19, 2016

TLC Book Tours Review: A Series of Catastrophes and Miracles: A True Story of Love, Science, and Cancer by Mary Elizabeth Williams

Title: A Series of Catastrophes and Miracles: A True Story of Love, Science, and Cancer
Author: Mary Elizabeth Williams 
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: National Geographic
Publish Date: April 26, 2016
Source: TLC Book Tours

What's the Story?:

From "After being diagnosed in her early 40s with metastatic melanoma—a "rapidly fatal" form of cancer—journalist and mother of two Mary Elizabeth Williams finds herself in a race against the clock. She takes a once-in-a-lifetime chance and joins a clinical trial for immunotherapy, a revolutionary drug regimen that trains the body to vanquish malignant cells. Astonishingly, her cancer disappears entirely in just a few weeks. But at the same time, her best friend embarks on a cancer journey of her own—with very different results. Williams's experiences as a patient and a medical test subject reveal with stark honesty what it takes to weather disease, the extraordinary new developments that are rewriting the rules of science—and the healing power of human connection."

My Two Cents:

In "A Series of Catastrophes and Miracles," Mary Elizabeth Williams takes readers through her ordeal with cancer, a very serious thing. With doses of both seriousness and humor (believe it or not), she shows readers what it is really like to go something like her ordeal and come out the other side. She explores both the science and the sheer force of will it took her to get through something too many people have to face.

I was intrigued by the promise of discussion of immunotherapy and thrilled by the good sense of humor and realness that you find throughout the book. It was so interesting to read Williams' account of what her treatment was like - truly amazing! At the same time, we see what her dear friend has to go through in contrast. This book really showed me both how far we've come and how far we have yet to go when it comes to treating diseases like cancer. This book is a great pick for anyone who wants to know more about what it is like to go through these truly cutting edge treatments.

Yes, this is a serious subject but the author does an amazing job of infusing humor and insight into what happened to her. I like memoirs because they allow me to see my own life through a different lens. I have known so many people who have gone through cancer or who have died from it and this book makes me think a lot about what could have been had there only been more of this kind of treatment sooner!


Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Review: Astonish Me by Maggie Shipstead

Title: Astonish Me
Author: Maggie Shipstead
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: Vintage
Publish Date: January 5, 2015
Source: Library

What's the Story?:

From ""Astonish Me" is the irresistible story of Joan, a ballerina whose life has been shaped by her relationship with the world-famous dancer Arslan Ruskov, whom she helps defect from the Soviet Union to the United States. While Arslan's career takes off in New York, Joan's slowly declines, ending when she becomes pregnant and decides to marry her longtime admirer, a PhD student named Jacob. As the years pass, Joan settles into her new life in California, teaching dance and watching her son, Harry, become a ballet prodigy himself. But when Harry's success brings him into close contact with Arslan, explosive secrets are revealed that shatter the delicate balance Joan has struck between her past and present."

My Two Cents:

"Astonish Me" is the story of Joan, a woman who gave up her dream of being a ballerina after she marries someone from her hometown and has a baby. But before that, she helped a dissident from the Soviet Union flee the country. Arslan is a wonderful dancer and is able to have a very successful career in the United States. He and Joan will move in and out of each other's lives throughout this book in very surprising ways.

I had heard a lot about this book and about Shipstead's writing, which is what initially drew me to this book. While far removed from that world, I have always been fascinated by the high stakes realm of ballet. It seems so competitive and so exciting so the subject matter also interested me. The story started a little slow for me. I kind of felt like I was being held at arm's length from the characters. Joan is a very shut off character and because of the action in the story, she really has to be. I wanted to understand her motivation more so that I could engage with the story better.

This book has some major twists and turns that really kept me engaged and wanting to read further. Shipstead does a good job of continuously turning everything that the reader thinks that they know on its head. It was these twists that really kept me reading! Overall, this book was a little dry for me and I wanted to be more "in it."


Monday, May 16, 2016

Review: Looking East by Jacqueline Dreager

Title: Looking East 
Author: Jacqueline Dreager
Format: Paperback
Publisher: Sierra Press
Publish Date: March 6, 2016
Source: PR

What's the Story?:

From "In 1912 Guangxi Provence, nine year old Guoshi Mo experienced two life altering events: his pigtail was chopped off and subsequently he was betrothed to a little girl his own age simply named, Sister 13. Guoshi, an exemplary student, was dead set against this type of arrangement and would spend most of his life fighting to right the wrongs of feudalism and corruption.

Changing his name from Guoshi Mo to James Mo, he sailed from Shanghai to New York City in 1920 to work for the American Communist Party. He met and fell in love with Celia Edelson, a Young Pioneer from the communist youth division. Considered an agitator by The New York Times, Comrade James Mo was on the FBI list of suspicious individuals and was spirited out of New York to the Soviet Union, leaving behind his beloved Celia. Within one year she would join him in Moscow to live at the infamous Lux, the hotel that housed German, Russian and Chinese exiles. In 1933 Celia became pregnant and was sent back to the United States by the Communist Party while James continued his studies at the Lenin Institute in Moscow.

In April 1934 Celia's baby is born in Cleveland Ohio. That same year Celia hears rumblings of James affair with a Ukrainian woman he met in Moscow. Celia, resentful and bitter, cuts off communication with the father of her child. Comrade James Mo marries, has a son and is subsequently arrested and imprisoned at two Moscow prisons, Lubianka, prison of death and Butyrka prison for deceiving the Party and lying about being born into a landowning family of intellectuals.

One hundred prisoners, including James, were escorted by train to a labor camp in the Siberian tundra where he would remain for eighteen years, felling trees, making bricks and patrolling an oil pipeline. Never having met his American daughter, Victoria, he would search for her for a dozen years upon his release from the Siberian Gulag."

My Two Cents:

"Looking East" is the story of James, a member of the Chinese Communist Party, and Celia, an American with a Russian family who joins the Communist Party in the United States. They meet in the United States and their love affair will set the tone for the book. The story focuses much more on James and his journey as a young man, then in America, then in the gulag.

James and Celia were both real people and the author draws heavily on actual memories and writings of their daughter, Victoria. In one way, this makes many of the characters feel real but in another way, it also makes the narrative suffer from an abundance of telling rather than showing. It can sometimes be detrimental to have too much detail. The reader needs room to create some of the book's world itself but with all of the description, the ability to do that was extremely limited. The added telling added a choppy feel to the book. Some sections were very good only to be overcome by too much extra information, which took me out of the book. I think the book could have been way more streamlined.

That being said, what kept me reading is the story line. James truly had a fascinating life and it is plain to see why the author wanted to tell his story through this historical fiction book. This book had so many of the factors that I look for in a book: exotic locales, interesting characters, and exotic locales. Overall, the characters need to be able to breathe and connect with the audience. Some of this was stymied here but the story itself pulls you in.


Thursday, May 12, 2016

Review: The Fox Was Ever the Hunter by Herta Müller

Title: The Fox Was Ever the Hunter
Author: Herta Müller
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: Metropolitan Books
Publish Date: May 10, 2016
Source: PR

What's the Story?:

From "Romania—the last months of the Ceausescu regime. Adina is a young schoolteacher. Paul is a musician. Clara works in a wire factory. Pavel is Clara’s lover. But one of them works for the secret police and is reporting on all of the group.

One day Adina returns home to discover that her fox fur rug has had its tail cut off. On another occasion it’s the hindleg. Then a foreleg. The mutilated fur is a sign that she is being tracked by the secret police—the fox was ever the hunter.

Images of photographic precision combine into a kaleidoscope of terror as Adina and her friends struggle to keep mind and body intact in a world pervaded by complicity and permeated with fear, where it’s hard to tell victim from perpetrator."

My Two Cents:

"The Fox Was Ever the Hunter" follows several characters but mostly the main character is Adina, a woman who believes that the Romanian secret police are following her at the end of the totalitarian regime of Ceausescu. I was fascinated by this look at a history that I was not all that familiar with.

What kept me reading this book is the writing. The writing is absolutely gorgeous and engaging. It does make you feel like there is a little bit of space between you and the characters and I never really felt like I got to know the characters very well and I wish I would have gotten to know them a little bit better throughout the book. There were several parts of the narrative that I read a few times simply because they were so well written.

The story itself left me wanting. Again, I think much of that had to do with feeling like I did not know the characters very well. It was hard for me to feel like I was very engaged with them. I wish there had also been a little bit more about the political situation of Romania at the time. You certainly get a taste of it but I wanted more.

Overall, the writing kept me reading and I will be on the lookout for some of Muller's other books! This story was a good taste!


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