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Monday, August 19, 2019

HFVBT Cover Reveal: Dreamland

Dreamland by Nancy Bilyeau

Publication Date: January 16, 2020
Endeavor Quill
Genre: Historical Fiction The year is 1911 when twenty-year-old heiress Peggy Batternberg is invited to spend the summer in America’s Playground. But the invitation to Coney Island is unwelcome. Despite hailing from one of America’s richest families, Peggy would much rather spend the summer at the Moonrise Bookstore where she works voluntarily, than keeping up appearances with Brooklyn socialites and her snobbish, controlling family. But soon it transpires that the hedonism of Coney Island affords Peggy more of the freedom she has been longing for. For one, she finds herself in love with a troubled pier-side artist of humble means, whom the Batternberg patriarchs would surely disapprove of. Disapprove they may, but hidden behind their pomposity lurks a web of deceit, betrayal and deadly secrets. And as bodies begin to mount up amidst the sweltering clamour of Coney Island, it seems the powerful Batternbergs can get away with anything…even murder.s It is up to Peggy to overcome the oppression of her family and clear the name of her vulnerable lover, before she or her beloved sister become the next victims of Dreamland. Extravagant, intoxicating and thumping with suspense, bestselling Nancy Bilyeau’s magnificent Dreamland is a story of corruption, class and dangerous obsession.

About the Author

"Dreamland" is Nancy Bilyeau's fifth novel of historical suspense. She is the author of the best-selling historical thriller “The Blue” and the Tudor mystery series “The Crown,” “The Chalice,” and “The Tapestry,” on sale in nine countries. Nancy is a magazine editor who has lived in the United States and Canada. She studied History and English Literature at the University of Michigan. After moving to New York City, she worked on the staffs of “InStyle,” “Good Housekeeping,” and “Rolling Stone.” She is currently the deputy editor of the Center on Media, Crime and Justice at the Research Foundation of CUNY and a regular contributing writer to “Town & Country" and "Mystery Scene Magazine." Nancy’s mind is always in past centuries but she currently lives with her husband and two children in Forest Hills in the borough of Queens. "Dreamland" is her first novel set in her adopted hometown of New York City.

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Cover Reveal Schedule

Monday, August 19 A Bookish Affair Gwendalyn's Books What Is That Book About Tuesday, August 20 Clarissa Reads it All Just One More Chapter Books In Their Natural Habitat Wednesday, August 21 Unabridged Chick Donna's Book Blog Let Them Read Books Thursday, August 22 A Book Geek The Lit Bitch Tar Heel Reader Kris Waldherr Art & Words Friday, August 23 I'm All About Books Lost_in_a_book_reviewer Historical Fiction with Spirit Saturday, August 24 Broken Teepee Passages to the Past Locks, Hooks and Books Sunday, August 25 A Darn Good Read Orange County Readers So Many Books, So Little Time Monday, August 26 Coffee and Ink Jessica Belmont Maiden of the Pages

Monday, August 12, 2019

Review: Song of a Captive Bird by Jasmin Darznik

Title: Song of a Captive Bird
Author: Jasmin Darznik
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: Ballantine Books
Publish Date: February 13, 2018
Source: Library






What's the Story?:

From Goodreads.com: "All through her childhood in Tehran, Forugh is told that Iranian daughters should be quiet and modest. She is taught only to obey, but she always finds ways to rebel—gossiping with her sister among the fragrant roses of her mother’s walled garden, venturing to the forbidden rooftop to roughhouse with her three brothers, writing poems to impress her strict, disapproving father, and sneaking out to flirt with a teenage paramour over café glacé. It’s during the summer of 1950 that Forugh’s passion for poetry really takes flight—and that tradition seeks to clip her wings.

Forced into a suffocating marriage, Forugh runs away and falls into an affair that fuels her desire to write and to achieve freedom and independence. Forugh’s poems are considered both scandalous and brilliant; she is heralded by some as a national treasure, vilified by others as a demon influenced by the West. She perseveres, finding love with a notorious filmmaker and living by her own rules—at enormous cost. But the power of her writing grows only stronger amid the upheaval of the Iranian revolution."


My Two Cents:

In "Song of a Captive Bird," Forugh is expected to fit into the mold of the ideal Iranian woman in the middle of the 20th century. She is expected to follow her parents' orders and do as she is told but she has a spirit that cannot be contained. She has a poet's heart and she wants to write. She wants to be able to call the shots on her own life. This is a phenomenal story that gives you a front row seat to a really fascinating woman.

I love stories about strong women and Forugh is most definitely a strong woman with a mind of her own. I loved how this story captured how when you want to write, you will do anything to be able to write. She is so driven to write her poetry that she forgoes a lot of the traditional trappings of what a woman is supposed to be in Iran in the 1950s and 1960s. She leaves a marriage. She leaves a child behind. She sets Tehran on fire with rumors of her long list of lovers. She writes what's on her heart for all to see! She was such a great character and I can't believe I had never heard of her before.

As many of you know, I'm trying to tackle books from every country this year. This is my pick for Iran and I was so happy to be able to find a fiction book set during a time in Iran's history that I didn't know much about. I feel like I've read a lot about the revolution and the time after so it was interesting to see just how quickly the country was changing, particularly through the eyes of Forugh. I loved all of the historical description. The description of the newspaper was particularly interesting!

The writing in this book was so good! I really enjoyed the first person point of view in the book. I loved being able to step into Forugh's shoes and see what she saw. This was a fantastic book! 


 

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

HFVBT Review: The Undertaker's Assistant by Amanda Skenandore

Title: The Undertaker's Assistant 
Author: Amanda Skenandore
Format: ARC
Publisher: Kensington
Publish Date: July 30, 2019
Source: HFVBT



What's the Story?:

From Goodreads.com: ""The dead can't hurt you. Only the living can." Effie Jones, a former slave who escaped to the Union side as a child, knows the truth of her words. Taken in by an army surgeon and his wife during the War, she learned to read and write, to tolerate the sight of blood and broken bodies--and to forget what is too painful to bear. Now a young freedwoman, she has returned south to New Orleans and earns her living as an embalmer, her steady hand and skillful incisions compensating for her white employer's shortcomings.

Tall and serious, Effie keeps her distance from the other girls in her boarding house, holding tight to the satisfaction she finds in her work. But despite her reticence, two encounters--with a charismatic state legislator named Samson Greene, and a beautiful young Creole, Adeline--introduce her to new worlds of protests and activism, of soirees and social ambition. Effie decides to seek out the past she has blocked from her memory and try to trace her kin. As her hopes are tested by betrayal, and New Orleans grapples with violence and growing racial turmoil, Effie faces loss and heartache, but also a chance to finally find her place . . .
"


My Two Cents:

"The Undertaker's Assistant" is a fantastic historical fiction set just after the Civil War. Our main character is tough-as-nails Effie, a freedwoman, who was the assistant to a surgeon during the Civil War - almost unheard of for a woman and particularly unheard of for a black woman. Effie has very few memories from her childhood and seems to be doing everything to avoid dwelling on the past. She goes to New Orleans to make a living as an undertaker's assistant, it is definitely not a job for everyone but Effie seems to be more comfortable with the dead than the living oftentimes.

I loved Effie's character. She is tough and smart and has always done what she has needed to do to survive. She relies on herself as much as she can but she seems to be constantly running from the past and the bad memories that seem to crop up if she stays still for too long. At first, she seems quite cold and strange - what young lady would want to work with dead people? As the book unfolds, we see that there is much more there than meets the eye. We see her grow and bloom throughout the book and I loved following her.

New Orleans is one of those cities that had to grow on me. It took me three visits before I fell in love with it. It makes for such a good setting for this book. New Orleans has almost a mystical and sometimes macabre feeling to it. It is the perfect backdrop for Effie's story and her dealings with the dead. Add to it all of the things that were going on after the Civil War as people grappled with what the outcome meant for them and the lives they wanted to build.

The historical detail in this book is so good. Not for the tender-hearted but the descriptions of preparing the dead was fascinating. Effie pulls us into her world with nary a blink. I actually haven't read a lot of books set during Reconstruction so it was so interested to read how people were grappling with this brand new world. Overall, this was a great read and I am excited to see what the author writes in the future!



Monday, August 5, 2019

Review: Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese

Title: Cutting for Stone
Author: Abraham Verghese 
Format: Paperback
Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf
Publish Date: February 2009
Source: Owned



What's the Story?:

From Goodreads.com: "Marion and Shiva Stone are twin brothers born of a secret union between a beautiful Indian nun and a brash British surgeon at a mission hospital in Addis Ababa. Orphaned by their mother’s death in childbirth and their father’s disappearance, bound together by a preternatural connection and a shared fascination with medicine, the twins come of age as Ethiopia hovers on the brink of revolution. Yet it will be love, not politics—their passion for the same woman—that will tear them apart and force Marion, fresh out of medical school, to flee his homeland. He makes his way to America, finding refuge in his work as an intern at an underfunded, overcrowded New York City hospital. When the past catches up to him—nearly destroying him—Marion must entrust his life to the two men he thought he trusted least in the world: the surgeon father who abandoned him and the brother who betrayed him."

My Two Cents:

"Cutting for Stone" is one of those books where I can't believe it took me so long to get to it! My Reading Challenge for this year (trying to read a book set in every country) luckily pushed me to get this book off my TBR and on to my read list. In Ethiopia, twins Marlon and Shiva are born out of a secret love affair and adopted by a couple of Indian doctors. We see them grow up throughout the book and begin to get curious about their origins and how that story has shaped the rest of their life.

Especially since having my own twins, I am fascinated by twin stories. It is so interesting to see how connected the twins are to each other even when a betrayal between the brothers literally forces continents between them. The relationship really rang true to me. When the twins try to extricate themselves from each other, they are still pulled towards each other in ways that they never expected. 

The characters in the book are so good and so memorable. The twins were definitely my favorite but I love how the author makes the secondary characters stand apart as well. Each of the secondary characters play such a key role in the lives of the twins and I like how they become a major part of the story themselves. 


This book is set in Ethiopia at a volatile time in the country's history where the country is rapidly changing. This book was a great introduction to the country for me. I really enjoyed seeing the country through this fictional story. The detail was really good and I loved how vivid the setting was!


Friday, August 2, 2019

Reading Challenge Update

As a reminder, I am aiming to read a book from or set in each country the Department of State recognizes, which is 195 countries!

I feel like I was able to get back into my groove a little bit more this month! I'm having a lot of trouble finding books for any island country and any of the former Soviet countries so if you have suggestions for those ones, I am all ears!
 
I read books from this many countries in July:
7
You can check out my progress on my map or see a list of where and what I'm reading here.

I have read 63 books for this challenge so far.

Take a look at my list! What else should I be reading?

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

HFVBT Review: In the Full Light of the Sun by Clare Clark

Title: In the Full Light of the Sun
Author: Clare Clark
Format: ARC
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publish Date: July 9, 2019
Source: HFVBT



What's the Story?:

From Goodreads.com: "Hedonistic and politically turbulent, Berlin in the 1920s is a city of seedy night clubs and sumptuous art galleries. It is home to millionaires and mobs storming bakeries for rationed bread. These disparate Berlins collide when Emmeline, a young art student; Julius, an art expert; and a mysterious dealer named Rachmann all find themselves caught up in the astonishing discovery of thirty-two previously unknown paintings by Vincent van Gogh."

My Two Cents:

 "In the Full Light of the Sun" is a story loosely based a true story of greed and art. In 1920s and 1930s Berlin, the city teems with drama. It is both a place of extreme wealth and extreme poverty. Whispers of instability fill the air. This book centers on three people: Julius, Emmeline, and Rachmann. All are drawn to art in different ways but have very different motives when it comes to a treasure trove of previously unknown Vincent Van Gogh originals. Looks can be deceiving though and things can often be too good to be true.

Art? Check! Historical fiction? Check! I was immediately drawn to this book by the promise of art and historical fiction. I was further drawn in by the promise of Vincent Van Gogh specifically as he is one of my very favorite artists. I loved the little bits of insight that we get into Van Gogh from the bits and pieces of correspondence and biography included in the book. You get to see Van Gogh in a bit of a different light, which I loved.

The characters were pretty good. I did wish that we got to understand what made each of our main characters tick a little bit more. We often see the characters in the book through the lens of their interpersonal relationships but not about their motivations. The characters still felt relatively unknown to me by the end of the book.

The story itself was interesting! I have always been fascinated about the idea of unscrupulous people trying to make a quick buck off of fake paintings. There have been a couple high profile cases, to include one specifically having to do with Van Gogh paintings in 1920s/1930s Germany but this book is not a fictionalization of that specific case. I loved the detail about how the mystery of the paintings was unraveled in the book.

This book would be a great jumping off point to learn about some of the real cases behind the story's inspiration.



Monday, July 15, 2019

Interview with Meghan Holloway, Author of Once More Unto the Breach


I am so very pleased to have Meghan Holloway, author of "Once More Unto the Breach" here on A Bookish Affair today. I thoroughly enjoyed this debut novel and you can check out my review here!




What was the inspiration behind "Once More Unto the Breach?"

I love the World War era. That entire first half of the 20th century speaks to me. I grew up hearing my grandparents’ stories of the Second World War. I had a number of great uncles who were in the European theatre. Each one came home, but each one returned so marked from his experiences. It was such a period of tumult and horror on a global scale that had never been seen before, and it was met with this incredible tenacity and courage. There is a reason that generation is called the Greatest Generation. This period shaped entire generations in their art, literature, philosophy, politics, everything. The World Wars had such an influence on society, and we still feel that influence today. That period of history is close enough to still feel very real to a modern audience, and it is such rich, rich fodder for the intensely human story. 

I have always wanted to write a tale set in the era, and when the character of Rhys came to me, I knew this story of love, family, home, and the regrets we carry with us was one I needed to tell.

What is the strangest or most interesting thing you found out in your book?

I think one of the most interesting things I learned about writing while working on ONCE MORE UNTO THE BREACH is the challenge of creating a seamless balance between story and rich historical detail fleshed out through research. I found it easy to get carried away with including every fascinating tidbit I found related to the period, and I had to be mindful of adding detail only as it related to the plot and furthered the tale. For example, try as I might, there was no way for me to include details about the slugs used in WWI to detect mustard gas. That might have been the strangest historical detail I discovered, and, while fascinating, it would not have served the story in any way. There is a difference between rich detail and enriching detail, and it is a fine line to walk, particularly with a historical setting.

What do you want readers to know before they read your book?

I think regardless of the era or setting in which I write, I am always exploring the human condition, the labyrinth of the mind, and the grittier side of our existence. ONCE MORE UNTO THE BREACH is a tale of war and loss, but also one of family and hope. It is about the love we have for those closest to us, the ease with which we can wound the people we care for the most, and the lengths to which we will go to seek atonement. 

I would also like readers to know how much I appreciate their willingness to spend their hard-earned money and valuable time on my story. I would like to thank readers for joining me on the journey Rhys undertakes in my tale. 


I loved so many characters in the book but there was something special about the inclusion of Otto. Can you tell us why it was important to you to include a dog like Otto?

Unlike my other characters, Otto is actually based on someone near and dear to me:  my standard poodle, Aidan. Standard poodles are a phenomenal breed. They are intelligent, sensitive, sweet, and incredibly human in their mannerisms. And in the spring of 1942, they were one of the thirty-two official breeds classed as war dogs by the Army. It was not until 1944 that poodles were cut from the list before the German Shepherd was declared the official dog of the US Army in 1946. The Nazis were infamous for their use of K-9 unites and had up to 200,000 dogs trained. While they primarily used German Shepherds as war dogs, poodles are of German origin, and I took a bit of creative liberty with the character of Otto. I did not originally have Otto outlined in my plot, but as I was writing, a big, black poodle crept out of the Forest of Fontainebleau and joined my protagonist’s journey. Anyone who knows me knows I have a deep and abiding love for dogs, and the inclusion of Otto was an ode to the constant, pure, faithful companionship dogs offer us.

Rhys and Charlotte were such great characters! It's hard for me to pick who I liked better. Who is your favorite character in this book?

That is really a hard pick. Each character is a favorite for a different reason. I love Rhys’s steadfast nature, his unwavering code of honor, and his willingness to do what needs to be done, even when it is painful for him. I love Charlotte’s pragmatism, her strength, and her cunning. And I have a soft spot for Henri, my antagonist. He views the world through an artist’s lens, but he has a very warped viewpoint. He is undeniably a sociopath, but he also loves dogs, believes women are highly underestimated, and has his own sense of justice. He and Rhys are truly two sides of one coin, but he utterly lacks Rhys’s humanity and compassion. Henri is an appalling character for many, and rightly so, but he was the character I enjoyed writing the most.

This is your debut novel - do you have any advice for aspiring writers?

This is my debut as Meghan Holloway, but I actually had two books published under a pseudonym years back. The publishing house I worked with went under, and both stories have been out of print for a few years now. But my advice to writers is this:  Keep writing and be willing to accept criticism, especially when it is constructive. Writing a story is hard work, but it is not until the editing process that it becomes a novel and you cannot edit a blank page. When it comes down to it, you have to treat writing like it is a job. Make the time every day to put words on paper. You are often entirely too close to your story to recognize its weaknesses and where it needs bolstering. Listen when others make suggestions. And realize that once your story is out there, not everyone is going to love it. The reader’s opinion is his or her prerogative.

If you could choose any three people (fiction or non fiction) to be with you on a deserted island, who would you pick and why?

Hm…As long as I could summon rescue when I was so inclined, have plenty of food provisions, and am not having to rough it too extremely, could I just take my poodle? Some days, a deserted island feels like the perfect writing retreat. 

Thank you so much for having me on your blog, Meg! I would love for readers to join me on social media. My website is www.meghanholloway.com, and readers can find me on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram under the handle @AMeghanHolloway. ONCE MORE UNTO THE BREACH is available in e-book, paperback, and audiobook format.

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