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Friday, August 26, 2016

HF Virtual Book Tours Review: Madame Presidentess by Nicole Evelina

Title: Madame Presidentess
Author: Nicole Evelina
Format: Paperback
Publisher: Lawson Gartner Publishing
Publish Date: July 25, 2016
Source: HF Virtual Book Tours

What's the Story?:

From "Rising from the shame of an abusive childhood, Victoria Woodhull, the daughter of a con-man and a religious zealot, vows to follow her destiny, one the spirits say will lead her out of poverty to “become ruler of her people.”

But the road to glory is far from easy. A nightmarish marriage teaches Victoria that women are stronger and deserve far more credit than society gives. Eschewing the conventions of her day, she strikes out on her own to improve herself and the lot of American women.

Over the next several years, she sets into motion plans that shatter the old boys club of Wall Street and defile even the sanctity of the halls of Congress. But it’s not just her ambition that threatens men of wealth and privilege; when she announces her candidacy for President in the 1872 election, they realize she may well usurp the power they’ve so long fought to protect.

Those who support her laud “Notorious Victoria” as a gifted spiritualist medium and healer, a talented financial mind, a fresh voice in the suffrage movement, and the radical idealist needed to move the nation forward. But those who dislike her see a dangerous force who is too willing to speak out when women are expected to be quiet. Ultimately, “Mrs. Satan’s” radical views on women’s rights, equality of the sexes, free love and the role of politics in private affairs collide with her tumultuous personal life to endanger all she has built and change how she is viewed by future generations.

This is the story of one woman who was ahead of her time – a woman who would make waves even in the 21st century – but who dared to speak out and challenge the conventions of post-Civil War America, setting a precedent that is still followed by female politicians today."

My Two Cents:

"Madame Presidentess" is a historical fiction book about Victoria Woodhull, the first woman to run for the American presidency. This is one of a group of books about Victoria that come out recently. My suspicion is that as we have one of the first women in a while running as viable presidential candidate that people are beginning to discover Woodhull again. Also, her life is incredibly fascinating! You have the makings for a good historical fiction book. It's no wonder that she is become such a popular topic for historical fiction.

Victoria's life doesn't start out great. She is born into a very poor family where her father seems to focus only on the next get rich scheme and her mother is addled by religious visions. It falls to Victoria in a lot of ways to take care of her siblings and keep the family going, which is hard for anyone. When she has the opportunity to get married at a very young age she does as it means more freedom for her. This book covers from her childhood to her adult years so you get to know her very well. Again it's no wonder that she's such a popular topic for historical fiction. She is an incredibly strong person who defines the word perseverance. I really enjoyed getting to know her a little bit better through this book.

The writing of the book is pretty good. Evelina gives a fresh take on Woodhull's life. But of the things that I really liked about the book, I especially was drawn to the first-person perspective which really pulls you into Victoria's life and makes her feel like a real person. It feels like a lot of people are just discovering this person. Before I read the last historical fiction book about Woodhull, I didn't know much about her at all. She's one of those people that in a lot of ways has largely been lost to history.


Thursday, August 25, 2016

Review: I Will Send Rain by Rae Meadows

Title: I Will Send Rain
Author: Rae Meadows 
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: Henry Holt and Co.
Publish Date: August 9, 2016
Source: Publisher

What's the Story?:

From "Annie Bell can't escape the dust. It's in her hair, covering the windowsills, coating the animals in the barn, in the corners of her children's dry, cracked lips. It's 1934 and the Bell farm in Mulehead, Oklahoma is struggling as the earliest storms of The Dust Bowl descend. All around them the wheat harvests are drying out and people are packing up their belongings as storms lay waste to the Great Plains. As the Bells wait for the rains to come, Annie and each member of her family are pulled in different directions. Annie's fragile young son, Fred, suffers from dust pneumonia; her headstrong daughter, Birdie, flush with first love, is choosing a dangerous path out of Mulehead; and Samuel, her husband, is plagued by disturbing dreams of rain.

As Annie, desperate for an escape of her own, flirts with the affections of an unlikely admirer, she must choose who she is going to become. With her warm storytelling and beautiful prose, Rae Meadows brings to life an unforgettable family that faces hardship with rare grit and determination. Rich in detail and epic in scope, I Will Send Rain is a powerful novel of upheaval and resilience, filled with hope, morality, and love."

My Two Cents:

"I Will Send Rain" is the story of the Bell family set against the beginning of the Dust Bowl years. Annie is bored with her marriage and wants more out of life. After a surprise flirtation with the mayor, she finds herself in a situation that she never could have expected. Birdie, Annie's daughter, has fallen head over heels with Cy, a farmer's son. She believes it to be true love and won't listen to her parents' reasoning but she gets into her own situation that will change her life as well as the lives of her family. Filled with great historical detail and bold characters, this is a read that I will be thinking about long after I read the last few words.

I haven't read a lot of historical fiction set during the 1930s, especially during the Dust Bowl years. It makes for a great setting. There is so much drama caused by the dust that consumed everything around it that automatically makes for an interesting read. I loved how the author was able to weave in the historical events of the time into the drama in the story. It is so hard for to imagine just how difficult these years were for so many in the center of the United States. People's lives and livelihoods were crushed. The juxtaposition between the chaos caused by the dust and the chaos caused by the decisions that the characters make in the book.

The characters are great! Annie is a strong woman but she wants to be loved and to feel the spark that she once had with her husband. I loved getting to know her through this book. I loved the juxtaposition between her and Birdie. Annie is a full-fledged adult and knows exactly what she is doing when she gets involved with the mayor. Birdie is blinded by first love and doesn't stop to think of the consequences. Even in the end, she seems to pull her "youthful ignorance" card and isn't willing to step up to the proverbial plate to take responsibility for her actions.

Overall, this is a great book! The writing is good and had a nice flow. The ending seemed a little abrupt but in a way where there did not really seem to be room for a sequel, which is unfortunate. I would have liked more closure but that took very little away from my enjoyment of the book. I really enjoyed the family secrets at the center of the book!


Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Review: Voracious: A Hungry Reader Cooks Her Way through Great Books by Cara Nicoletti

Title: Voracious: A Hungry Reader Cooks Her Way through Great Books
Author: Cara Nicoletti
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: Little, Brown, and Co.
Publish Date: August 18, 2015
Source: Library

What's the Story?:

From "As a young bookworm reading in her grandfather's butcher shop, Cara Nicoletti saw how books and food bring people to life. Now a butcher, cook, and talented writer, she serves up stories and recipes inspired by beloved books and the food that gives their characters depth and personality.

From the breakfast sausage in Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House in the Big Woods to chocolate cupcakes with peppermint buttercream from Jonathan Franzen's The Corrections, these books and the tasty treats in them put her on the road to happiness."

My Two Cents:

Is there anything that goes better together than good books and delicious food? In this book, the author explores some of the dishes from her favorite books and provides recipes for readers to try on their own. The book covers many different genres from children's lit to some of the classics. The author gives the meaning for her behind some of the books. Some of the books have universal appeal but there are others which may not appeal to as many people.

The design of the book is gorgeous and really drew me in. I love a good, stylish cookbook and that is definitely what you get with this book. This is definitely a book for book lovers. It inspired me to look back at some of my favorite books to see whether or not I could create any recipes from them!


Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Review: The Dispensable Nation: American Foreign Policy in Retreat by Vali Nasr

Title: The Dispensable Nation: American Foreign Policy in Retreat
Author: Vali Nasr
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: Doubleday
Publish Date: April 16, 2013
Source: Library

What's the Story?:

From "Vali Nasr, author of the groundbreaking The Shia Revival, worked closely with Hillary Clinton at the State Department on Afghan and Pakistani affairs. In The Dispensable Nation, he takes us behind the scenes to show how Secretary Clinton and her ally, Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, were thwarted in their efforts to guide an ambitious policy in South Asia and the Middle East. Instead, four years of presidential leadership and billions of dollars of U.S. spending failed to advance democracy and development, producing mainly rage at the United States for its perceived indifference to the fate of the region.

After taking office in 2009, the Obama administration had an opportunity to fundamentally reshape American foreign policy, Nasr argues, but its fear of political backlash and the specter of terrorism drove it to pursue the same questionable strategies as its predecessor. Meanwhile, the true economic threats to U.S. power, China and Russia, were quietly expanding their influence in places where America has long held sway.  "

My Two Cents:

"The Dispensable Nation" is a grim look at American foreign policy and where the author thinks that it is going . Nasr worked in the White House with Hillary Clinton as the Secretary of State and Richard Holbrooke, a much renowned foreign policy mind also in the State Department. Nasr has an axe to grind of sorts with Obama's foreign policy and for the most part, he makes a very good case throughout the book.

It was a fascinating read. It is easy to criticize things like foreign policy, which has so many moving parts and things that must be considered, from the outside. I am always more fascinated by those that have been on the front lines of making big decisions to see how they felt about the decisions that were made.

The book is broken down into different topical sections. I thought this worked really well for the subject matter in order not to overwhelm the reader. Although this book is filled with a lot of criticism for what the author sees as failings, I liked that the author also included other ways forward that should be considered by those that make and carry out foreign policy. I like books that stick with me long after the last page. This book gave me a lot to think about. It's a great read for those that have a keen interest in the difficult things that foreign policy makers face every day!

Monday, August 22, 2016

Review: The Star Side of Bird Hill by Naomi Jackson

Title: The Star Side of Bird Hill 
Author: Naomi Jackson 
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: Penguin
Publish Date: June 30, 2015 
Source: Library

What's the Story?:

From "After their mother can no longer care for them, young Phaedra and her older sister, Dionne, are exiled from Brooklyn to Bird Hill in Barbados to live with their grandmother Hyacinth, a midwife and practitioner of the local spiritual practice of obeah.

Dionne spends the summer in search of love, testing her grandmother's limits, and wanting to go home. Phaedra explores Bird Hill, where her family has lived for generations, accompanies her grandmother in her role as a midwife, and investigates their mother's mysterious life.

When the father they barely know comes to Bird Hill to reclaim his daughters, and both Phaedra and Dionne must choose between the Brooklyn they once knew and loved or the Barbados of their family."

My Two Cents:

"The Star Side of Bird Hill" is a coming of age story of two sisters who go to stay with their grandmother in Barbados after their mother, who is fighting demons of her own, can't take care of them. The sisters will deal with their new home in very different ways and the book really explores their feelings. This is a story about family and sisters and what it takes to overcome the most difficult circumstances.

The sisters deal with feeling abandoned in different ways with vastly different outcomes. Dionne is angry and acts out at every turn. At first, I wasn't sure what was driving Dionne's hot anger. It is just so intense. Eventually we find out that she is using her anger and acting out to hide her deep pain and fear. Phaedra acts completely different. She throws herself into learning what her grandmother will teach her about midwifery. It was so interested to see the juxtaposition.

The book takes a little while to take off but as we learn more about Phaedra and Dionne and what makes them tick, the book really hits a great stride. I enjoyed getting to know the characters through this book. This is Jackson's debut novel and this book made me excited to see what the future holds for her!


Friday, August 19, 2016

Review: Shopaholic to the Rescue by Sophie Kinsella

Title: Shopaholic to the Rescue
Author: Sophie Kinsella
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: The Dial Press
Publish Date: October 27, 2015
Source: Library

What's the Story?:

From "Becky’s father Graham and her best friend’s husband, Tarquin, have disappeared from Los Angeles saying simply they have “something to take care of.”

But Tarquin’s wife Suze who is Becky’s best friend, and Becky’s mother Jane, are convinced the two men are hiding something and are in danger—their imaginations run wild. They must track them down!

Hijinks ensue as husband Luke drives Becky, daughter Minnie, Jane, Suze and other favorite Kinsella characters across country from LA to Las Vegas in search of the missing men.

Becky feels deeply guilty about ignoring her father while he was in LA, in addition Becky feels her enemy Alicia is threatening her friendship with Suze."

My Two Cents:

"Shopaholic to the Rescue" is book number eight in Sophie Kinsella's Shopaholic series. These books are so much fun. I've read every single one and they are like candy for the brain. In this book, Becky is trying to find her dad and her best friend's husband. Her best friend is mad at her and Becky can't quite figure out what's going on with her husband.

The book is fast paced and feels frazzled, which is extremely fitting for the book. There's a road trip and a crazy chase from place to place in the Western U.S. that holds down all of the things happening between the various characters. And if you know Becky, by now you know that frazzled is just a part of the territory. Which brings up a good point, this book is best for those that have read all or at least most of the prior Shopaholic books. If you haven't read them, you are going to be confused about the characters and all of the various relationships between all of the characters.

This is definitely a comfort read. I love that the characters feel so familiar to me now! Overall, this is a good pick for anyone looking for a funny book that has fallen in love with Becky the Shopaholic before!


Thursday, August 18, 2016

Author Guest Post: M.K. Tod

I am very excited to welcome M.K. Tod, author of "Time and Regret" here to A Bookish Affair today!

Essentials of a good mystery

My latest novel, Time and Regret, is a mystery, a very different genre from the historical fiction of my first two novels. And it’s written in two time periods – early 1990s and World War One – just to provide an added challenge. I stumbled on the story while sharing dinner and a bottle of wine with my husband at a quaint restaurant in northern France.

Once the decision was made to write it, I settled into the task of constructing a mystery. “Can’t be too difficult,” I kept muttering to myself. Well, actually, it can and here’s what I discovered.

Plot is everything. You have to have a great story; one that engages readers from the outset offering twists and turns and unexpected developments. For example, a character your readers expect to be the culprit dies before the novel ends. Or perhaps your heroine loses the very clue that promised to solve the mystery or her lover is revealed to be working against her.

Pacing must be high. Mystery lovers expect the story to build momentum and then for the action – those twists and turns – to remain in high gear. And there must be action! Too much interior musing will slow the story down. The hero has to be on the move with some sort of adventure happening while the mystery unfolds.

Tension has to build and build. Your heroine must experience danger and challenge. Conflicts and dead ends must occur. A clue or two – ones that readers think are meaningful – should turn out to be insignificant.

Characters can’t be boring. They need angst in their lives, personal dilemmas and demons and, like characters in any good novel, they need to change during the story. Their motivation for taking on the mystery must be clear.

The crime or triggering event has to occur early in the story. The sleuth and culprit also need to be introduced early and the crime has to be believable. No slow build up while readers get to know your characters. No extensive scene setting or backstory either.

The mystery must challenge most readers. Your story will fall flat if it’s too easy to figure out. Readers should wonder who did it for a long time. Readers should suspect someone only to find that person had nothing to do with the crime. And yet, the ultimate explanation for why the culprit has done the crime has to be simple.

Wait as long as possible before revealing the culprit. The reveal is your readers’ ultimate satisfaction. They don’t want a lot of story resolution after that occurs.

The culprit needs to be punished. Your readers expect justice and will be disappointed if that doesn’t occur.
Not surprisingly, I reconstructed the plot many times and wrote many drafts before being satisfied that Time and Regret hung together as a mystery. You’ll have to be the judge as to how well is satisfies these criteria.
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