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Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Review: The Paris Key by Juliet Blackwell

Title: The Paris Key
Author: Juliet Blackwell
Format: Paperback
Publisher: NAL
Publish Date: September 1, 2015 (Today!)
Source: I received a copy from the publisher; however, this did not affect my review.

What's the Story?:

From "As a girl, Genevieve Martin spent the happiest summer of her life in Paris, learning the delicate art of locksmithing at her uncle’s side. But since then, living back in the States, she has become more private, more subdued. She has been an observer of life rather than an active participant, holding herself back from those around her, including her soon-to-be-ex-husband.

Paris never really left Genevieve, and, as her marriage crumbles, she finds herself faced with an incredible opportunity: return to the magical city of her youth to take over her late uncle’s shop. But as she absorbs all that Parisian culture has to offer, she realizes the city also holds secrets about her family that could change her forever, and that locked doors can protect you or imprison you, depending on which side of them you stand."

My Two Cents:

"The Paris Key" is the story of Genevieve, who is running away from her marriage after her husband has an affair. She's heartbroken and she thinks that getting back to the city that her mother fell in love with and taking over her uncle's locksmith shop might just be the trick to getting her life back on track. Genevieve can barely speak French when she arrives in Paris but slowly she begins to build a life for herself and begins to unravel the mystery of what happened to her mother in Paris.

This book is the story of family, love, and family secrets. This book started off a little bit shaky for me and throughout the book there were places where I felt that the author told a little bit too much and gave a little bit too much detail which gummed up some of the narrative. Luckily for me there were only a couple places like that and in general, the storytelling was very good. I was entranced by the story of Angela, Genevieve's mother, and how she fell in love in Paris. I don't want to give anything away about Angela's love story because that makes a huge crux of the story arc. The story is definitely originally when it comes to Angela's story, which I appreciated.

Paris is definitely one place that I love to read about. I would love to visit someday and this book had me wishing that even more. I thought that the author gave a really unique look at Paris in the present day as well as Paris in the more recent past. Overall, I thought this was a good story and I read it pretty quickly!

Monday, August 31, 2015

#Dryland1992: Mixed-Tape Memories

As I mentioned last week, I'm going to be participating in a bunch of activities to celebrate the pub week for Dryland by Sara Jaffe.

Here's the lineup for pub-week:
  • Monday, 8/31: Mixed-Tape Memories: Post a picture of a favorite cassette tape, mention a favorite memory or artist/album/playlist
  • Tuesday, 9/1: Then and Now Around Town: How as your city changed since '92?
    Wednesday, 9/2: On Wednesdays We Wear Plaid: Post a picture of yourself wearing plaid with the book!
  • Thursday, 9/3: Not-So Current Events: Reminiscence on events in your life and in the news in '92
  • Friday, 9/4: Favorite Picture Friday: Dare to share a picture of yourself rocking overalls, crimped hair, choker necklaces...we will, too!

On to today's topic: Mixed-Tape Memories!

So in 1992, I would have been 7 years old. I was being raised on a healthy diet of pop and rock. I was also listening to country music as I was doing country line dancing - seriously! I have always loved music and I loved making mixed tapes even back then. I would beg my parents to get me blank cassettes so I could record my favorite songs off of the radio. There was a fine art to pushing the record button at just the right moment as if not to record the deejay's voice! I am also a little bit of a perfectionist and I spent a lot of time re-recording my tapes to get them just right!

Some of the artists that I would have been recording included: Madonna, Billy Ray Cyrus, Michael Jackson, Celine Dion, Boys II Men, and Red Hot Chili Peppers. It was an eclectic mix and I've kept my love for eclectic music as an adult!

Who were you listening to in 1992?

Review: Dryland by Sara Jaffe

Title: Dryland
Author: Sara Jaffe
Format: Paperback
Publisher: Tin House Books
Publish Date: September 1, 2015
Source: I received a copy from the publisher; however, that did not affect my review.

What's the Story?:

From "It’s 1992, and the world is caught up in the HIV/AIDS epidemic and the Balkan Wars, but for fifteen-year-old Julie Winter, the news is noise. In Portland, Oregon, Julie moves through her days in a series of negatives: the skaters she doesn’t think are cute, the trinkets she doesn’t buy at the craft fair, the umbrella she refuses to carry despite the incessant rain. Her family life is routine and restrained, and no one talks about Julie’s older brother, a one-time Olympic-hopeful swimmer who now lives in self-imposed exile in Berlin. Julie has never considered swimming herself, until Alexis, the girls’ swim team captain, tries to recruit her. It’s a dare, and a flirtation—and a chance for Julie to find her brother, or to finally let him go. Anything could happen when her body hits water."

My Two Cents:

From "In "Dryland," Julie is a teenage girl who decides to take up swimming. It's something that she has never really shown an interest in before even though her brother was an absolutely amazing swimmer and in a way she uses swimming to try to get closer to her brothers memory. Her brother has disappeared and Julie can't really put together what happened to him. Within this book, she'll figure out not only what happened to him but how it affects the way that she thinks about her family and about her own life. This is a powerful book with a unique voice.

This book is set in 1992 in Portland, Oregon. The time of the book is very important to keep in mind as you're reading as the way that people thought about AIDS at the time was vastly different than how they think about it now. I lived through the 90s but I was a young kid at the time and didn't always understand everything that was going on so it was interesting to see the time period in a book.

Julie is a very interesting character. Not only is she dealing with the disappearance of her brother and trying to take on swimming; she is also dealing with her first real crush on Alexis, one of the girls who gets her to join swimming in the first place. Julie doesn't really know how to deal with her feelings because she is unsure what it'll mean if she admits that she has feelings for another girl. I thought the author did a really good job of capturing what it would be like to go through a crush like that where the object of Julie's affection is in many ways messing with Julie's mind. It was hard to read but it was very realistic. This is truly a coming of age story where the character evolves from where she was at the beginning.

I also must mention that I really liked that the book included swimming. I swam in high school and some of my fondest memories from high school involve swim team. It's where I made some really good friends and had some really fun memories. My specialty event was even the 500m like Julie does in the book (luckily, I am a better swimmer than Julie was!!!).

Overall, I really enjoyed this book is they gave me a glimpse back to a time that I don't often read much about. The writing is incredibly vivid and allowed me to see what Julie was going through end to see her true feelings. I would recommend this book to someone who is looking for a YA book that is a little bit off the beaten path."


Friday, August 28, 2015

Review: The Gates of Rutherford by Elizabeth Cooke

Title: The Gates of Rutherford
Author: Elizabeth Cooke
Format: Paperback
Publisher: Berkley
Publish Date: September 1, 2015
Source: I received a copy from the publisher; however, this did not affect my review.

What's the Story?:

From "Charlotte Cavendish has been dreaming of her old home at Rutherford Park. It is April 1917; she is nineteen years old. And everywhere there is change. The war still rages on the Continent, where her brother fights for the Royal Flying Corps. Her parents’ marriage is in jeopardy, with her mother falling for a charming American in London.

But not all is grim. Charlotte is marrying Preston, the blinded soldier whom she nursed back to health. Her parents couldn’t be happier about this. The young man hails from a well-established and wealthy family in Kent, and he’s solid and respectable. They hope he’s the one to tame their notoriously headstrong daughter.

But as time passes, Charlotte slowly comes to the realization that she is not truly happy. And for a reason she is only just beginning to understand. A reason she dare not reveal to the family—or the world…"

My Two Cents:

"The Gates of Rutherford" is a historical fiction look at life during World War I. It is a companion book to "Rutherford Hall." This book reminds me a lot of shows like "Upstairs, Downstairs" and "Downton Abbey." In "The Gates of Rutherford" there is still a huge cast and much of it centers on a new marriage where the couple wasn't really sure what they want out of it. World War I is raging in the lives of the people in the book are caught up in it.

Ensemble casts work well for television and movies. They don't always work so well for books. While I enjoyed the setting of this book and the time period, I found it very hard to follow along with the stories in the book. There are a lot of characters and I felt like I never could get very close to them.

There are some but some stories that I was very into such as the one about the German prisoner but there were other stories where I felt like I didn't we get to know the characters very well and therefore wasn't as interested. This book is not all that long either so there isn't really a lot of detail about each of the characters in many ways, this book feels like a slice of life about people who are dealing with World War I in Europe. You get a taste of the characters but I found myself wanting more. That being said there storylines are still very interesting and kept me reading. Overall, this book was a mixed bag for me.


Thursday, August 27, 2015

Announcing: #Dryland1992

Next week is the release for "Dryland" by Sara Jaffe. I'll be celebrating the book all week on a Bookish Affair. The book takes place in 1992 so I'll be getting nostalgic all week long next week!

Here's a description of each day:

•   Monday, 8/31: Mixed-Tape Memories
Post a picture of a favorite cassette tape, mention a favorite memory or artist/album/playlist
   Tuesday, 9/1: Then and Now Around Town
How as your city changed since '92?
•   Wednesday, 9/2: On Wednesdays We Wear Plaid
Post a picture of yourself wearing plaid with the book!
•   Thursday, 9/3: Not-So Current Events
Reminiscence on events in your life and in the news in '92
•   Friday, 9/4: Favorite Picture Friday
Dare to share a picture of yourself rocking overalls, crimped hair, choker necklaces...we will, too!

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Review: Enchantress of Paris by Marci Jefferson

Title: Enchantress of Paris
Author: Marci Jefferson
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: Thomas Dunne Books
Publish Date: August 4, 2015
Source: I received a copy from the publisher; however, this did not affect my review.

What's the Story?:

From "The alignment of the stars at Marie Mancini's birth warned that although she would be gifted at divination, she was destined to disgrace her family. Ignoring the dark warnings of his sister and astrologers, Cardinal Mazarin brings his niece to the French court, where the forbidden occult arts thrive in secret. In France, Marie learns her uncle has become the power behind the throne by using her sister Olympia to hold the Sun King, Louis XIV, in thrall.

Desperate to avoid her mother's dying wish that she spend her life in a convent, Marie burns her grimoire, trading Italian superstitions for polite sophistication. But as her star rises, King Louis becomes enchanted by Marie's charm. Sensing a chance to grasp even greater glory, Cardinal Mazarin pits the sisters against each other, showering Marie with diamonds and silks in exchange for bending King Louis to his will.

Disgusted by Mazarin's ruthlessness, Marie rebels. She sacrifices everything, but exposing Mazarin's deepest secret threatens to tear France apart. When even King Louis's love fails to protect Marie, she must summon her forbidden powers of divination to shield her family, protect France, and help the Sun King fulfill his destiny."

My Two Cents:

"Enchantress of Paris" is the latest historical fiction offering from Marci Jefferson. I really enjoyed her last book, "Girl on the Golden Coin," so I was excited to read this book. In this book, we see the court of King Louis XIV of France, also known as the Sun King, through the eyes of one of his most beloved mistresses, Marie Mancini. Louis and Marie truly loved each other but it was a forbidden love with the King's mother and Marie's uncle trying to keep the lovers apart because of their own wants and more importantly, their own secrets!

This story is told from the perspective of Marie in first-person point of view. I really loved this because it allowed me to have a front seat to what it must've been like to be in France at the time. Marie and Louis fall hard for each other and it is a true love. Marie really doesn't seem to care that Louis is the king and Louis is ready to give up the throne for her if it means that they can be together. I had never really known much about Marie Mancini so I liked getting to know her through this book.

As the title suggests, there is an element of magic added to this book that I also really enjoyed. The author is able to weave in some magical realism details that really made this book sparkle for me. Marie comes from a line of family members who have been able to weave some enchantment through their lives and Marie also has that power. The element is subtle but really works for this book!

I also have to mention how much I enjoyed this setting. I've read a lot of historical fiction set in France but I haven't read too too much about the Sun Kings Court. It was such an interesting time and Francis history and I really enjoyed getting to know it a little bit better through this book. Overall, the authors writing and the characters that she includes make this book a great pick for historical fiction lovers.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Review: The Year My Mother Came Back by Alice Eve Cohen

Title: The Year My Mother Came Back
Author: Alice Eve Cohen
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: Algonquin Books
Publish Date: March 31, 2015
Source: Owned

What's the Story?:

From "Thirty years after her death, Alice Eve Cohen’s mother appears to her, seemingly in the flesh, and continues to do so during the hardest year Alice has had to face: the year her youngest daughter needs a harrowing surgery, her eldest daughter decides to reunite with her birth mother, and Alice herself receives a daunting diagnosis. As it turns out, it’s entirely possible for the people we’ve lost to come back to us when we need them the most.

Although letting her mother back into her life is not an easy thing, Alice approaches it with humor, intelligence, and honesty. What she learns is that she must revisit her childhood and allow herself to be a daughter once more in order to take care of her own girls. Understanding and forgiving her mother’s parenting transgressions leads her to accept her own and to realize that she doesn’t have to be perfect to be a good mother."

My Two Cents:

"The Year My Mother Came Back" is a memoir in which we get a glimpse of the trials and tribulations of mother/ daughter relationships, that most special and intricate bond. The author has lost her mother but as she is going through a difficult time with both of her own daughters as well as trying to fight cancer, her mother appears to her. The author reminisces on her relationship with her mother and her relationship with her children as their mother. Filled with gorgeous prose, this book is a fast read with a lot of weight in meaning.

Memoirs can be difficult. You have to have a compelling story and a compelling way to tell it. In this case, the author has both. The book flashes back between the past and the present (which sometimes got difficult but if you stick with it, the payoff is worth it). The author sees her mother in the present and it sends her reeling into her memories, that were not always that great. 

I liked the way that the author was able to draw comparisons between her role as a daughter and her role as a mother. That role, as I am finding out as a new mother, changes so much. You go from being taken care of to being the caretaker. It is a weird jump. In the book, Cohen is taking care of her almost college age adopted daughter who discovers her biological family and her younger daughter who is going through some incredibly difficult medical issues. This is an unflinching look at the different forms that mother/ daughter relationships take. I suggest this book to those that enjoy memoirs and are fascinated by the intricacies of mother/ daughter relationships.

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