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Thursday, May 21, 2015

Review: Boy, Snow, Bird by Helen Oyeyemi

Title: Boy, Snow, Bird
Author: Helen Oyeyemi
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: Riverhead Books
Publish Date: March 6, 2014
Source: Library






What's the Story?:

From Goodreads.com: "In the winter of 1953, Boy Novak arrives by chance in a small town in Massachusetts, looking, she believes, for beauty—the opposite of the life she’s left behind in New York. She marries a local widower and becomes stepmother to his winsome daughter, Snow Whitman.

A wicked stepmother is a creature Boy never imagined she’d become, but elements of the familiar tale of aesthetic obsession begin to play themselves out when the birth of Boy’s daughter, Bird, who is dark-skinned, exposes the Whitmans as light-skinned African Americans passing for white. Among them, Boy, Snow, and Bird confront the tyranny of the mirror to ask how much power surfaces really hold."


My Two Cents:

"Boy Snow Bird" is a book by Helen Oyeyemi, an author that I had been wanting to try for awhile. It is the story of Boy, a young woman who is running away from her troubled and difficult past in New York City. She finds herself in Massachusetts, which is where she meets Arturo, a man she falls in love with and marries. Boy then becomes the stepmother to Arturo's daughter, Snow. But when Arturo and Boy have a child together, Boy realizes that Arturo and his family are light-skinned African-Americans who are passing White. It's the 1950s and this is a scandal!

One of the things that made me interested in reading this book is that it was billed as being a retelling of the fairytale, Snow White and the Seven Dwarves. However, this isn't exactly a retelling. There are definitely elements from that story such as their recurrence of the appearance of mirrors in the story as well as Boy being sort of a wicked stepmother to Arturo's first daughter, Snow. That being said I wasn't disappointed in this book even though it turned out quite differently from what I thought it was going to be in the beginning.

This is my first time reading this author but I know that I will be back for more. I like the way that she was able to weave some magical realism throughout the story, which is one of my favorite elements. The author also has a really interesting way of using subtle details in order to make the reader think.

I did wish that we as readers were able to get a little bit closer to the characters in the book. Even though the book is narrated from their perspective, it still felt as if in many cases they were keeping the reader at arms' length. The sparkling writing made up for that at least a little bit for me!


 

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Review: The Curse of Anne Boleyn by C.C. Humphreys

Title: The Curse of Anne Boleyn
Author: C.C. Humphreys
Format: Ebook
Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark
Publish Date: May 1, 2015
Source: Netgalley






What's the Story?:

From Goodreads.com: "Years have gone by since the events surrounding the death of Anne Boleyn. But her missing hand and all that it represents to the dark world of 16th-century Europe still draws the powerful to seek it out. Jean Rombaud - the French executioner of the first novel - has grown old, both in age and spirit. Wearied by the betrayal of a son and the scorn of a wife, he fights in the seemingly never-ending siege of Siena. Meanwhile, Gianni Rombaud has forsaken everything his ageing father stands for and now kills heathen for the Inquisition in Rome. Then he is summoned by Cardinal Carafa himself. His masters no longer merely want his dagger in the hearts of Jews, they want the hand of the dead queen... But only three people know where it is buried, and one of them is Gianni's father..."

My Two Cents:

"The Curse of Anne Boleyn" is a re-release of the second book in C.C. Humphreys' French Executioner series about Jean Rombaud. Before reading this book, I did not realize that this book was the second in a series. I must tell you that had I known that, I would have read the first book first as I had a lot of questions about the characters in this book. The premise of this book is that when Anne Boleyn was buried, one of her hands was cut off. It's now been many years since her death and several people are now after the missing hand in this book.

I have read several other books by C.C. Humphreys at this point in time and many of the things that I liked about his previous books are also present in this book. Although this is billed as historical fiction, it can also be build it as historical action. In this book, the French executioner Jean Rombaud is now older. The book focuses on him as well as on his son, Gianni. There are also some sections about Princess Elizabeth, Anne Boleyn's daughter and her captivity. To me, these sections were more compelling in a lot of ways. I am a huge fan of Elizabeth I and it was interesting to me to see Humphreys' take on the events surrounding her mother who she barely knew's death.

Here is where you have to take into account the fact that I did not read the first book. I would've liked to see a little bit more development of the characters. The focus is really on the action of the book and therefore I feel like I didn't really get to know The characters well at all. I really wanted to know what their motivations were and what made them tick.

For other history lovers, I enjoyed that this book covers the siege of Siena, Italy, something that I did not know much about at all. The author uses a lot of historical detail to help the reader understand all of the different parties involved and that historical event. I always like learning something new! Again, I want to go back and read the first book in the series to see if it gives me any more background on any of the characters in this book. This book is great for readers who are looking for an action story with a little bit of mystery included.


 

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Review: The House of Hawthorne by Erika Robuck

Title: The House of Hawthorne
Author: Erika Robuck
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: NAL
Publish Date: May 5, 2015
Source: I received a copy from the publisher; however, this did not affect my review.






What's the Story?:

From Goodreads.com: "Beset by crippling headaches from a young age and endowed with a talent for drawing, Sophia is discouraged by her well-known New England family from pursuing a woman’s traditional roles. But from their first meeting, Nathaniel and Sophia begin an intense romantic relationship that despite many setbacks leads to their marriage. Together, they will cross continents, raise children, and experience all the beauty and tragedy of an exceptional partnership. Sophia’s vivid journals and her masterful paintings kindle a fire in Nathaniel, inspiring his writing. But their children’s needs and the death of loved ones steal Sophia’s energy and time for her art, fueling in her a perennial tug-of-war between fulfilling her domestic duties and pursuing her own desires.

Spanning the years from the 1830s to the Civil War, and moving from Massachusetts to England, Portugal, and Italy, The House of Hawthorne explores the tension within a famous marriage of two soulful, strong-willed people, each devoted to the other but also driven by a powerful need to explore the far reaches of their creative impulses. It is the story of a forgotten woman in history, who inspired one of the greatest writers of American literature.…"


My Two Cents: 

 "The House of Hawthorne" is Erika Robuck's latest historical fiction. I enjoyed "Hemingway's Girl" so I was looking forward to reading this book (I need to get on reading Robuck's other books - so many books, so little time). This book focuses on the relationship and marriage between author, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and his wife Sophia. Nathaniel is definitely the more well-known of the Hawthornes, however, his wife was also an artist in her own right.

I did not know much about Nathaniel Hawthorne's life before reading this book. It's always interesting to me to read historical fiction that takes a look at historical figures that you may not be familiar with. It seems like a great way to get an introduction! The only thing that I've ever read by Hawthorne is "The Scarlet Letter," so I was looking forward to reading about the man behind the book. Robuck looks at the interesting relationship between Nathaniel and Sophia. Sophia both inspired Nathaniel but was also an artist in her own right, who fought her own demons.

The book is told from Sophia's perspective, which I really liked. She had a interesting life in her own right before she met Nathaniel where she ended up in Cuba where she was trying to recover from health issues that would end up plaguing her for her entire life. I liked that we get to know her separately from Nathaniel as well as what they are like when they are together. Robuck breathes life into Hawthorne and we get to know him in a very intimately.

The relationship between Nathaniel and Sophia was interesting and it's easy to see why the author was drawn to writing about this couple. They fight a lot of the same demons as well as some different ones but in many ways, they bring out the best in each other. When Nathaniel and Sophia first meet, the sparks are almost instantaneous. They recognize in each other something that they don't find in a lot of other people: a love of art and an understanding of the importance of solitude. When they get married, there are some naysayers (including the famous Margaret Fuller) who say that art will be put on the proverbial back burner and neither Nathaniel nor Sophia will create anything great again. In the case of Nathaniel, he writes some of his most famous books while he is married. Sophia has a much different experience. The book explores how she copes with this and what she is able to create as part of the family.

Another thing that I enjoyed within this book is reading about all of the Hawthorne's other friends. Much of the book is set in Massachusetts, specifically Concord where the family makes their home. Concord was a haven for many writers including Henry Thoreau and Louisa May Alcott. It was interesting to see a different side of these writers than just their books.

The writing of this book was great! Again, I really liked that Sophia narrated the book. She has a wholly original voice and all of the detail made her seem real. I also really liked this book takes you so many different places. Although most of the book is set in Massachusetts, throughout the book the characters travel to England, Italy, and Portugal, which Robuck is able to bring to life with rich detail. I recommend this book to anyone who is looking for a good portrait of Nathaniel Hawthorne and his family or wants to do some armchair traveling.


 

Friday, May 15, 2015

Welcome, Katherine and Hadley!

So if you follow me on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram, you may have caught wind that my girls arrived about a month ago. It was actually a month ago yesterday and it has been a whirlwind, an absolutely amazing, fantastic whirlwind but a whirlwind nonetheless. This is a post that I have been meaning to write for awhile but trying to find the time and more importantly, the words has been hard.

Before we found out that we were having twins, I was totally prepared for the idea of having a baby. One. single. baby. When we found out that we were getting two babies at the very same time, my head was spinning. I feel like I spent a lot of my pregnancy just trying to wrap my head around the idea that we would be having two identical twin girl babies that would indeed be arriving at the same time.  On top of that, twin pregnancies, especially identical twin pregnancies can be scary. All the sudden, my husband and I found ourselves speaking in acronyms and weird terms. Talking about and worrying about the complexities of MoDi twins, TTTS, TAPS, and so on and so forth became de riguer for us. We live in the Washington, D.C. area so acronyms are just a way of life mostly but these are acronyms that frightened me in so many different ways.

After being on partial bed rest for a month and then full bed rest for almost two months after that, I got up on the morning of April 16th to use the bathroom. When I came back to bed, Phil asked me what time it was. I replied "4:30. We still have time to sleep!" Right at that moment, my water broke. This was exactly a week before I was supposed to have the girls (at 36 weeks and 4 days - here's the other thing about identical twins is that they have to be taken early because of increased risks after 37 weeks). I panicked. I wasn't ready. I was worried that because the girls were coming even earlier than expected that we'd run all sorts of risks such as health problems and NICU time. Luckily, my dear husband is a man of action and started flying around the house to pack up the last few things that I hadn't packed for my hospital stay yet while calling my doctor on call.

We got to the hospital and got signed in. The next few hours went quickly and slowly at the same time. We waited in triage to figure out what the next step would be. Phil did his best to keep my mind from running and off of how badly the contractions started to hurt. Finally, my doctor came in and said that all we were waiting for was an OR.

By 10:35 a.m., Katherine Mary was born.


By 10:37 a.m., Hadley Elizabeth was born.


With everything that I was worried about and had fixated on for the previous several months, the girls came out perfectly healthy. Katherine only weighed 4 pounds, 7 ounces and Hadley weighed 4 pounds, 11 ounces yet they were fierce. Both girls blew their Apgar scores out of the water and neither one had to have any NICU time at all!!!





 I knew I loved these girls before they arrived but what has been so amazing to me is how quickly it felt as if they have always been here. It sounds trite but I cannot imagine my life without them. Yesterday, they turned a month old and they have already grown so much. I feel like we are finally hitting a rhythm somewhat!

Anyone that knows me at all can tell you that I like plans. I really like plans. I am your classic "Type AI like to have things set and admittedly when my plans don't work out exactly the way that I had planned, it throws me off. My pregnancy was not smooth. I had to cancel a trip to India for a good friend's wedding and our babymoon to Philadelphia. I was on partial bed rest beginning at the end of January. By the end of February, I was on full bed rest. Just a few days before the girls arrived, I was diagnosed with mild pre-eclampsia. It was frustrating and actually quite scary for me at some points. If nothing else, my pregnancy and the birth of my girls taught me that you can't plan everything and the things that you don't plan don't always turn out badly. In fact, things can turn out quite well. Sometimes, the ability to be flexible and to roll with the punches is the only thing that you can plan for and that's okay. When you're open to all the different possibilities out there, truly amazing things can happen.


Thursday, May 14, 2015

Review: The Sound of Glass by Karen White

Title: The Sound of Glass
Author: Karen White
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: NAL
Publish Date: May 12, 2015
Source: I received a copy from the publisher; however, this did not affect my review.






What's the Story?:

From Goodreads.com: "It has been two years since the death of Merritt Heyward’s husband, Cal, when she receives unexpected news—Cal’s family home in Beaufort, South Carolina, bequeathed by Cal’s reclusive grandmother, now belongs to Merritt.

Charting the course of an uncertain life—and feeling guilt from her husband’s tragic death—Merritt travels from her home in Maine to Beaufort, where the secrets of Cal’s unspoken-of past reside among the pluff mud and jasmine of the ancestral Heyward home on the Bluff. This unknown legacy, now Merritt’s, will change and define her as she navigates her new life—a new life complicated by the arrival of her too young stepmother and ten-year-old half-brother.

Soon, in this house of strangers, Merritt is forced into unraveling the Heyward family past as she faces her own fears and finds the healing she needs in the salt air of the Low Country."


My Two Cents:

"The Sound of Glass" is a story about a couple families who are connected in very unexpected ways. When Merritt inherits her husband's grandmother's house after he passes away, she leaves New England for a new life and a new start in South Carolina. She's hoping for some time to herself to deal with some of the hurt she felt at the hand of her husband. Her look for solitude is broken quickly when her stepmother, Loralee, and her half-brother, Owen show up at her house looking for a place to stay. Loralee says that they're only going to stay "a little while" but "a little while" turns into something much longer. Eventually Merritt begins to understand that her life is better with people surrounding her rather than trying to shut herself off from the world. As she is trying to put herself back together, she meets her late husband's brother, Gibbes, who will change her life in a lot of ways. This is a story of family, love, hurt and redemption and there is a good deal of mystery at the center of it. In the 1950s, Merritt's husband's grandmother witnesses a plane crash over her home. She becomes obsessed with trying to figure out what happened and why. In this book, we learn that the past can be connected to the present in the most surprising of ways.

I really enjoyed this book. This is the first book that I've ever read by Karen White but I know this is not going to be the last time that I read anything by her. There's so much going for this book! It has a lot of great characters, who feel really real. There's an interesting mystery that definitely kept me guessing through out the book. There's good thoughts on how important family is whether it's the family we have or the family we choose. There is even a good romance! I ate it all up. This is definitely one of those books that I was sad about when it ended. I wanted more!

The characters were definitely stand out for me. Even with as prickly as she is, I really liked Merritt. You can see that she's hiding a lot and is trying to cope with a lot on her own. I definitely felt for her. Loralee is loving and always has a little bit of advice for every given situation. These women are very different from each other however when they finally come together it's something really unique and special. I also just adored Gibbes. What a great guy!

I don't want to give too much away about the mystery surrounding the plane crash at the center of the book so I won't say too much on that aspect. I love when an author can keep me on my toes and keep me guessing and the author definitely did that throughout this book. I definitely didn't see what was coming at the end of the book! It's always nice not to be able to guess how things are going to come together.

I think this book had a really good message about how the past doesn't have to be doomed to repeat itself even when it seems like it's inevitable. Overall, this book was definitely a delight and I look forward to reading more by the author in the future!


 

Review: Wolf Bride by Elizabeth Moss

Title: Wolf Bride
Author: Elizabeth Moss
Format: Ebook
Publisher: Sourcebooks Casablanca
Publish Date: May 5, 2015
Source: Netgalley






What's the Story?:

From Goodreads.com: "England, 1536. Lord Wolf, hardened soldier and expert lover, has come to King Henry VIII's court to claim his new bride: a girl who has intrigued him since he first saw her riding across the Yorkshire moors. Eloise Tyrell, now lady-in-waiting to Queen Anne Boleyn, has other ideas. She has no desire to submit to a man she barely knows and who - though she is loath to admit it - frightens her not a little. Then comes that first kiss. It awakens in both a fierce desire that bares them to the soul. But as the court erupts into scandal around the ill-fated Queen, Eloise sees first-hand what happens when powerful men tire of their wives. Dare she surrender her body and her heart?"

My Two Cents:

"Wolf Bride" is a historical romance/ erotic fiction with a heavy dose of hotness. It's set during the time of the Tudors (books like this show me that I am still not over the Tudors). As this book opens, King Henry VIII is married to Anne Boleyn, who is suspected of having dalliances with many men other than her husband. However, this book does not focus on Anne Boleyn or Henry really but one of her needs and waiting, Eloise.

Eloise is a naïve woman who has promised to a man who scares her a little bit while at the same time also intrigues her. Lord Wolf is powerful and a little bit intimidating. When Eloise becomes his wife, she is attracted to him in a way that she has never been attracted to another man. I really loved the relationship between Lord Wolf and Eloise. The author did a great job of showing the development of the relationship between the two characters so that everything that happened felt really real. The way that their relationship evolves over the course of the book was really interesting to me. There is a ton of passion and a lot of hotness and this book which I really enjoyed!

A lot of the book focuses on the initial misunderstandings that Lord Wolf and Eloise have of each other. It almost feels as if they are chasing each other in a way, of which I really enjoyed. While for most of the book, the Tudor setting merely plays a backdrop for Lord Wolf's and Eloise's relationship, I did appreciate that the author really tied the characters to their places at court. I think a lot of times historical romances and eroticas can suffer because the time period in which they are set seems undeveloped. This is definitely not the case here! Overall, I enjoyed this book!


 

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Review: The Silver Witch by Paula Brackston

Title: The Silver Witch
Author: Paula Brackston
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: Thomas Dunne Books
Publish Date: April 21, 2015
Source: I received a copy from the publisher; however, this did not affect my review.






What's the Story?:

From Goodreads.com: "A year after her husband’s sudden death, ceramic artist Tilda Fordwells finally moves into the secluded Welsh cottage that was to be their new home. She hopes that the tranquil surroundings will help ease her grief, and lessen her disturbing visions of Mat’s death. Instead, the lake in the valley below her cottage seems to spark something dormant in her – a sensitivity, and a power of some sort. Animals are drawn to her, electricity shorts out when she’s near, and strangest of all, she sees a new vision; a boatful of ancient people approaching her across the water.

On this same lake in Celtic times lived Seren, a witch and shaman. She was respected but feared, kept separate from the community for her strange looks. When a vision came to her of the Prince amid a nest of vipers she warned of betrayal from one of his own. Prince Brynach both loved and revered her, but could not believe someone close to him wished him harm, even as the danger grew.

In her own time, Tilda’s grief begins to fade beside her newfound powers and a fresh love. When she explores the lake’s ancient magic and her own she discovers Seren, the woman in her vision of the boat. Their two lives strangely mirror each others, suggesting a strong connection between the women. As Tilda comes under threat from a dark power, one reminiscent of Seren’s prophecy, she must rely on Seren and ancient magic if death and disaster are not to shatter her life once more."


My Two Cents:

When Tilda moves to the small cottage on a Welsh lake that she and her husband were supposed to live in before he passed away suddenly, she feels like maybe she is working towards closure with dealing with her husband's death. What she finds is that there is a whole new world awaiting her that will shock and surprise. Brackston's latest offering has a heavy dose of magical realism that pulled me in. This is another one of her Witch books that I ate up

Tilda is definitely an interesting character to me. She starts the book being very upset about her young husband's untimely death and rightfully so. She pushes away anyone that gets too close and seems to want to shut herself away from the world. Very quickly, she realizes that this new cottage on a lake may hold the key to showing her who she actually is and that she can have a life after her husband. A lot of the book focuses on her self realization and she goes from being totally unaware of her and the power of the past that she holds to realizing that things are not always as they seem. I really enjoyed following her journey!

Tilda is not the only character in the book. The book is also told from the perspective of Seren, a Celtic healer and witch who lives in the past. Tilda and And Seren will be connected in ways that neither one can imagine. Although I enjoyed reading about Tilda's journey, I really enjoyed the writing of Seren's sections a little bit better as we get a first person point of view of her life back in the 900s. Tilda's sections are told from the third person present point of view which almost made me feel that we were being held at arms length as readers. The book started out being fast paced but as the book went on, I did think it lost a little bit of momentum but not enough to take away too much for my enjoyment of the book.


 
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