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Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Review: Girl in Translation by Jean Kwok

Title: Girl in Translation
Author: Jean Kwok 
Format: Paperback
Publisher: Riverhead
Publish Date: April 29, 2010
Source: Owned



What's the Story?:

From Goodreads.com: "When Kimberly Chang and her mother emigrate from Hong Kong to Brooklyn squalor, she quickly begins a secret double life: exceptional schoolgirl during the day, Chinatown sweatshop worker in the evenings. Disguising the more difficult truths of her life like the staggering degree of her poverty, the weight of her family’s future resting on her shoulders, or her secret love for a factory boy who shares none of her talent or ambition. Kimberly learns to constantly translate not just her language but herself back and forth between the worlds she straddles.

Through Kimberly’s story, author Jean Kwok, who also emigrated from Hong Kong as a young girl, brings to the page the lives of countless immigrants who are caught between the pressure to succeed in America, their duty to their family, and their own personal desires, exposing a world that we rarely hear about."


My Two Cents:

"Girl in Translation" is the story of Kimberly, a teenage girl who comes to the United States with her mother. They come for a new life and expect that they are going to be welcomed by family that sponsored them to come over. Kimberly's mother's sister is cruel and doesn't make good on so many of the promises that she made to her sister. Kimberly and her mother often feel like they're in a new world with no help.

Immigration and immigrants have very much been on my mind in light of what is going on in our world politically, especially in my own country. The U.S. has had the history of being the land of opportunity and I wonder if that will be our legacy in the future. Kimberly and her mother believe that they will have a better opportunity for stability in a new country on the complete other side of the world. I was interested in how Kimberly approaches her new life. It's hard but she has a lot of resilience and thoroughly believes that her intelligence and wit will get her to where she wants to go. There's a lot to love about that.

The author does give us a fairly tidy conclusion but the getting there felt a little rushed when compared to the rest of the book. While I liked the conclusion, I wish we would have gotten to see a little more how Kimberly gets to where she is by the end of the book. Overall, this book was a good one about what it is like to walk a mile in someone else's shoes.


 

Monday, October 30, 2017

Review: Love Warrior by Glennon Doyle Melton

Title: Love Warrior
Author: Glennon Doyle Melton
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Publish Date: September 6, 2016
Source: Library



What's the Story?:

From Goodreads.com: "Just when Glennon Doyle Melton was beginning to feel she had it all figured out—three happy children, a doting spouse, and a writing career so successful that her first book catapulted to the top of the New York Times bestseller list—her husband revealed his infidelity and she was forced to realize that nothing was as it seemed. A recovering alcoholic and bulimic, Glennon found that rock bottom was a familiar place. In the midst of crisis, she knew to hold on to what she discovered in recovery: that her deepest pain has always held within it an invitation to a richer life.

Love Warrior is the story of one marriage, but it is also the story of the healing that is possible for any of us when we refuse to settle for good enough and begin to face pain and love head-on. This astonishing memoir reveals how our ideals of masculinity and femininity can make it impossible for a man and a woman to truly know one another - and it captures the beauty that unfolds when one couple commits to unlearning everything they’ve been taught so that they can finally, after thirteen years of marriage, fall in love."


My Two Cents:

"Love Warrior" is the second memoir from Glennon Doyle Melton. It focuses on the story of her marriage and all of the up's and down's that come with it. It's about more than that though: namely how you live a more truthful and open life. Her ruminations on what it means to do this were enlightening and brave. This is the kind of book that I know that I will want to go back to over and over again.

It's hard to be open and to lay yourself bare but that is exactly what Melton does throughout this book. It's what I most appreciated in this book. Too often we swallow down are real feelings and we feel the need to project a picture-perfect dream of what our life is like. Life is good but life is also incredibly messy and even though we all know that, it's hard to be totally and completely unarmed with each other. There's one part of the book where Melton talks about saying "I'm fine" when you really are not fine. She shows that often if you let others in when times get tough, it can help you. Such simple advice but oh so hard to follow.

Melton isn't afraid to be disarmed. Her words often feel like they are just tumbling out and although they may be imperfect, they're important and they're clear and they're true. Even if your relationship is in shape this book still may be a good pick for you if you're going through a difficult time.


 

Friday, October 27, 2017

Review: Bonaparte Falls Apart by Margery Cuyler, Will Terry (illustrator)

Title: Bonaparte Falls Apart
Author: Margery Cuyler, Will Terry (illustrator) 
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: Crown Books 
Publish Date: August 15, 2017
Source: Publisher



What's the Story?:

From Goodreads.com: "Bonaparte is having a tough time. It's hard for this young skeleton to just hang loose when he can't keep hold of himself. 

When he plays catch, his throwing arm literally takes a flyer. Eating lunch can be a real jaw-dropping occasion. How can he start school when he has so many screws loose? 


Luckily, Bonaparte hit the bone-anza when it came to his friends. Franky Stein, Black Widow, and Mummicula all have some boneheaded ideas to help pull him together. But will it be enough to boost his confidence and get him ready for the first day of school?"


My Two Cents:

"Bonaparte Falls Apart" is the adorable story of a little skeleton who is a little different: he falls apart whenever he walks or tries to play with his friends. His friends try the best to put Bonaparte back together again but nothing works. Eventually Bonaparte realizes that it's okay to be himself, flaws and all, and finds a cute dog buddy to help him when the going gets tough at school.

Looking for a not scary book perfect for Halloween? This is it. The illustrations are adorable. The story is upbeat and uplifting. It also has a really good message. My girls were in love with the little dog in the book. This is a great story to share with the whole family!


 

Thursday, October 26, 2017

TLC Book Tours: The It Girls by Karen Harper

Title: The It Girls 
Author: Karen Harper 
Format: ARC
Publisher: William Morrow 
Publish Date: October 24, 2017
Source: TLC Book Tours and HarperCollins






What's the Story?:

From Goodreads.com: "Lucy transformed herself into Lucile, the daring fashion designer who revolutionized the industry with her flirtatious gowns and brazen self-promotion. And when she married Sir Cosmo Duff-Gordon her life seemed to be a fairy tale. But success came at many costs—to her marriage and to her children . . . and then came the fateful night of April 14, 1912 and the scandal that followed.

Elinor’s novels titillate readers, and it’s even asked in polite drawing rooms if you would like to “sin with Elinor Glyn?” Her work pushes the boundaries of what’s acceptable; her foray into the glittering new world of Hollywood turns her into a world-wide phenomenon. But although she writes of passion, the true love she longs for eludes her.

But despite quarrels and misunderstandings, distance and destiny, there is no bond stronger than that of the two sisters—confidants, friends, rivals and the two “It Girls” of their day. "


My Two Cents:

"The It Girls" covers the lives of Elinor and Lucile Sutherland who lived during the late 1800s and early 1900s. Both of these women lived when the world was changing rapidly and they both often seemed to be in the middle of some of the greatest changes. The book covers from their childhood all the way to when they were well into middle age. Because this book covers so much of their lives, the book often felt like vignettes and I kept wishing for it to slow down. This book certainly whet my appetite to learn more about these two women.

From being an author and a fashion designer (Elinor and Lucile respectively), to relationships good and bad, to all of the thrills and difficulties of being sisters, this book had a lot going on. It was interesting to see how both characters grow and change throughout the book. They go from being super close to each other to sniping at each other to criticizing and back to being super close again.

This book is ambitious in how much it tries to cover in the story. Both Elinor and Lucile lived incredibly full lives between their personal lives, travels, and careers. This book certainly gives a taste of this but only a taste. As an example, even though the Titanic appears prominently on the cover and it was a huge event, it only makes up a tiny bit of the narrative. I wanted to know more, not just about the boat and it's aftermath (the hint of the criticism that Lucile and her husband get after getting in a lifeboat to be rescued would have been fascinating). I wish the book had been more focused so that we could get to know the characters much better than we do. That being said, this book still packed a punch with these two women that I knew little about before the book.


 



Wednesday, October 25, 2017

HF Virtual Book Tours: A Sea of Sorrow: A Novel of Odysseus by The H Team

Title: A Sea of Sorrow: A Novel of Odysseus
Author: David Blixt, Amalia Carosella, Libbie Hawker, Scott Oden, Vicky Alvear Schecter, Russell Whitfield, and Gary Corby
Publisher: Knight Media, LLC
Publish Date: October 17, 2017
Source: HF Virtual Book Tours



What's the Story?:

From Goodreads.com: "Odysseus, infamous trickster of Troy, vaunted hero of the Greeks, left behind a wake of chaos and despair during his decade long journey home to Ithaca. Lovers and enemies, witches and monsters—no one who tangled with Odysseus emerged unscathed. Some prayed for his return, others, for his destruction. These are their stories…

A beleaguered queen’s gambit for maintaining power unravels as a son plots vengeance.

A tormented siren battles a goddess’s curse and the forces of nature to survive.

An exiled sorceress defies a lustful captain and his greedy crew.

A blinded shepherd swears revenge on the pirate-king who mutilated him.

A beautiful empress binds a shipwrecked sailor to servitude, only to wonder who is serving whom.

A young suitor dreams of love while a returned king conceives a savage retribution.


Six authors bring to life the epic tale of The Odyssey seen through the eyes of its shattered victims—the monsters, witches, lovers, and warriors whose lives were upended by the antics of the “man of many faces.” You may never look upon this timeless epic—and its iconic ancient hero—in quite the same way again."

My Two Cents:

"A Sea of Sorrow" is the story of Odysseus. It is an anthology and the latest offering from the H team, a bunch of powerhouse historical fiction writers. Like their previous offerings, this anthology packs a punch and I am so happy to see anthologies cross over to the historical fiction realm where they don't seem to be found often. After reading this book and the other H team books, it is very perplexing to me as to why this is. 

It is no wonder that Odysseus makes for a great retelling. His story has everything: adventure, mystical beings, and a great journey. This book covers many of the monsters and men that Odysseus meets while he makes his way home. Oden covers the KyKlops (who is given much more depth and motive than the original). Carosella explains what sirens really might have been, which is fascinating. And then of course, there is Blixt's story of the infamous Calypso. 
While Odysseus acts as a shadow over much of the book, he doesn't actually appear all that much. Shecter's first story covers Ithaca while Odysseus is away and what it does to his wife and son. She follows his return in the Epilogue, when he comes to terms with what he left and the effects it had. We finally get to see Odysseus in Whitfield's story as he returns home and what he is met with.

My favorite story in the book was Libbie Hawker's story of Circe, Odysseus's sorceress. Hawker seeks to explain that Circe doesn't truly see herself as someone with supernatural powers of the kind Odysseus gives her in the Odyssey. As with many people of the day, Circe believes in the higher powers of the gods and goddesses but with more of a grain of salt than the stories of Odysseus would previously have us believe. Hawker hits on something that has seemed to hit women throughout time: don't do something a man wants? You must be cold. You must be a bitch. Circe definitely doesn't do what Odysseus and his men want so was she really a witch or did Odysseus just make that up because he didn't get what he wanted? I think this story hit me hardest because its something that has very much been on my mind in the political realm that we are currently living through. Oh, it's so good!

And do yourself a favor: read the author's notes. It was fascinating to see what the authors were thinking about when they were writing each of their sections. If you're looking for adventure and a way to see an old myth in new light, this is the book for you.


Tuesday, October 24, 2017

HFVBT Author Guest Post: Erika Mailman, Author of The Murderer's Maid

I am very excited to welcome Erika Mailman, author of "The Murderer's Maid" here to A Bookish Affair.



Author Erika Mailman

Before There was Crime Scene Tape

In 1892, the small mill town of Fall River, Massachusetts, was shaken to its core by the hatchet murders of a prominent citizen, Andrew Borden, and his wife Abby. His daughter (Abby's stepdaughter) Lizzie Borden was accused of the murders and stood trial a year later. She was acquitted, but the intervening century and a quarter have seen many people convinced of her guilt.

If she was guilty, one of the things that helped her mightily was the way the crime scene was treated. No yellow tape protected the integrity of the scene. A photographer confronted with the body of Mrs. Borden, half hidden by the bed she crawled under to escape the hatchet, simply pulled her out and rearranged her to get a full-body image. No images were taken of the exact position in which she lay.

Curious neighbors felt free to walk through the home and view the corpses. Lizzie, her sister, her uncle, and a friend spent the next few nights in the home where they could have easily tampered with evidence or hidden a weapon better. (The bodies rested in the dining room at least one night until taken away). Officers were posted outside, but no one kept a firm eye on Lizzie. Several days after the murders, she burned one of her dresses in the kitchen stove. Whether covered in blood or not, the dress was part of an active crime scene.

In the trial transcripts, we find proof of what a circus the crime scene was. Witness Thomas Barlow testified that he and a friend went to the Borden house as soon as they'd heard about the murders. They tried to get inside, but weren't allowed in. So instead, they went to the backyard barn. Lizzie claimed the barn loft as part of her alibi, so this again was an active part of the scene that was not protected as it should have been.

Here's Barlow:

"Went into the barn and right up to the hayloft. Looked out the west window, then looked in under the hay, and then came downstairs and went out (he and his friend were looking for the murderer!)...Went to the south side of the house; tried to look in window. There were several people looking in the windows."

Barlow said he stayed at the house, milling around the yard, until dinnertime. He went home to eat and returned to the Borden house, where he stood in the street until midnight.

He and his friend were only boys, which perhaps explains why they couldn't gain admittance to the house, unlike hundreds of others who gamely tromped through the house. The Borden home is very close to the street, so undoubtedly Lizzie and other family members were well aware of the hooting townspeople clustered on the street watching and waiting for anything worth seeing.

There are so many ways in which the police department didn't effectively secure the crime scene. An officer admitted that the attic was not searched. Other than maid Bridget Sullivan's bedroom and another chamber, the attic was basically a wide open space filled with boxes and trunks—the perfect place to hide a weapon. Nor was the kitchen searched, nor the cupboard from which Lizzie plucked the dress she burned. It seems the "female" or "servant" areas were not considered worthy of examination.

A spool of yellow tape could've gone a long way for this case.



Erika Mailman is the author of The Murderer's Maid: A Lizzie Borden Novel, as well as several other historical novels. Visit www.erikamailman.com.

Monday, October 23, 2017

HFVBT Review: The Murderer's Maid by Erika Mailman

Title: The Murderer's Maid
Author: Erika Mailman
Format: ARC
Publisher: Bonhomie Press
Publish Date: October 30, 2017
Source: 



What's the Story?:

From Goodreads.com: "The Murderer's Maid interweaves the stories of two women: one, the servant of infamous Lizzie Borden, and the other a modern-day barista fleeing from an attempt on her life.

Trapped by servitude and afraid for her own safety, Irish maid Bridget finds herself an unwilling witness to the tensions in the volatile Borden household. As Lizzie seethes with resentment, Bridget tries to perform her duties and keep her mouth shut.

Unknowingly connected to the legendary crime of a century ago, Brooke, the illegitimate daughter of an immigrant maid, struggles to conceal her identity and stay a jump ahead of the men who want to kill her. When she unexpectedly falls in love with Anthony, a local attorney, she has to decide whether to stop running and begin her life anew."

My Two Cents:

"The Murderer's Maid" is the dual story of the infamous Lizzie Borden, who brutally murdered her father and stepmother at the end of the 19th century and the present day story of Brooke, a young woman on the run from the danger of her past. Brooke finds that she is related to Lizzie Borden and finds herself drawn to the mystery of her past almost as an escape from her present on the run. 

What a book to read right before Halloween! You want creepy? You've got creepy with this book. While I enjoyed both stories, I loved the atmosphere that the author created around Lizzie Borden. Certainly any book about a woman who murders her parents in cold blood would be chilling but the way the author foretells of Lizzie's brutalness is amazing. I don't want to give anything away but man, the pigeon scene! That scene was so well done and gives us so much insight into what kind of person Lizzie is and how she could be capable of really evil things. 

As you can tell from the title of the book, the story is seen through the eyes of Lizzie Borden's family maid, Bridget. Bridget is Irish and faces discrimination in her town. When she lands a job at the Borden house, she has bad feelings from the very beginning but a job is a job so she takes it. I loved seeing the story through her eyes. She's just trying to make a living and to do a good job. It was fascinating to see how she deals with the craziness that goes on in the Borden household and how she stays even after the murders.

Like I said, both stories in the book are super interesting. Brooke, the woman in the present day story, is solving a few mysteries of her own. She has a connection to Lizzie Borden and following her as she unravels that mystery makes for great reading. She is also on the run from her past and her own perhaps part in a crime that has haunted her ever since and has kept her on the run.

This book has so many twists and turns in both story lines! This was a great, atmospheric read. I loved the way that the author was able to create such suspense, even with a story that may be familiar to a lot of people. This was a good read!


Friday, October 20, 2017

Review: A Column of Fire by Ken Follett

Title: A Column of Fire
Author: Ken Follett 
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: Viking
Publish Date: September 12, 2017
Source: Publisher



What's the Story?:

From Goodreads.com: "In 1558, the ancient stones of Kingsbridge Cathedral look down on a city torn apart by religious conflict. As power in England shifts precariously between Catholics and Protestants, royalty and commoners clash, testing friendship, loyalty, and love.

Ned Willard wants nothing more than to marry Margery Fitzgerald. But when the lovers find themselves on opposing sides of the religious conflict dividing the country, Ned goes to work for Princess Elizabeth. When she becomes queen, all Europe turns against England. The shrewd, determined young monarch sets up the country’s first secret service to give her early warning of assassination plots, rebellions, and invasion plans. Over a turbulent half century, the love between Ned and Margery seems doomed as extremism sparks violence from Edinburgh to Geneva. Elizabeth clings to her throne and her principles, protected by a small, dedicated group of resourceful spies and courageous secret agents.

The real enemies, then as now, are not the rival religions. The true battle pitches those who believe in tolerance and compromise against the tyrants who would impose their ideas on everyone else—no matter what the cost."


My Two Cents:

"A Column of Fire" is the third book in Ken Follett's Kingsbridge series. I have not read the first two books but after reading this one, I really want to go back to read those two books as well as some of Follett's other books! That being said, this book works rather well as a standalone book. Standing at over 900 pages, you are in Follett's very capable hands so the pages fly by! This is a historical fiction epic.

The book takes place during a tumultuous time in England's history: the late 1500s and early 1600s. The country is going through a major identity crisis as to whether it is a Catholic or a Protestant country. Should everyone be in the same mold or can they have more freedom? Who is the rightful ruler of the country? Who can that ruler trust?

This was a time period that was familiar to me but what I appreciated is that for the most part, Follett's characters are just on the edge of history. We meet rulers through them like Queen Elizabeth and Mary, Queen of Scots. We see how calculated each move must be for even these edge-of-history characters in order to be on the "right" side at the "right" time.

This book is action packed and kept me on my toes. In some ways, it reminds me of a soap opera. There's a huge cast but each character has their own unique story. Large casts can often be an issue for me because of the likelihood of characters blending together but Follett really does a good job of creating different storylines that intertwine in surprising ways.

This was a great read!


 

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Review: Glow by Megan E. Bryant

Title: Glow
Author: Megan E. Bryant
Format: Ebook
Publisher: Albert Whitman Company
Publish Date: September 1, 2017
Source: PR



What's the Story?:

From Goodreads.com: "When thrift-store aficionado Julie discovers a series of antique paintings with hidden glowing images that are only visible in the dark, she wants to learn more about the artist. In her search, she uncovers a century-old romance and the haunting true story of the Radium Girls, young women who used radioactive paint to make the world's first glow-in-the-dark products—and ultimately became radioactive themselves. As Julie’s obsession with the paintings mounts, truths about the Radium Girls—and her own complicated relationships—are revealed. But will she uncover the truth about the luminous paintings before putting herself and everyone she loves at risk?"

My Two Cents:

"Glow" is a dual timeline story about Julie, a young artist with a penchant for finding interesting things in thrift stores, and three sisters living during World War I who all get jobs painting dials of clocks for the troops overseas. This practice uses radium, which at the time was seen as actually having health benefits although we recognize it as being quite harmful these days.

There has been a crop of books that have come out over the past few years that have been about the infamous radium girls. In this book, the historical story of the sisters working in the factory takes a backseat to the modern story of Julie discovering the historical mystery. While we get to hear directly from Julie in a more forward fashion, the story of the radium girls in this book is told through letters and diary entries, which while interesting made the history feel further away. I wanted to know so much more about the sisters and what they thought about what they were going through in the factory and about the choices they made even when those choices could prove to be dangerous.

Although the focus on the modern day story does takes precedence over the historical story, there is still some really interesting historical facts. I just wanted more there. I wanted to get to know the historical characters better and wanted more detail about their lives and the difficulties they faced from working in the factory.

This book is geared for young adult readers and while mystery lovers will enjoy how Julie uncovers the secrets of the past, this book only gives you a tiny taste of the story of the radium girls but that taste is still good.


 

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Review: The American Spirit: Who We Are and What We Stand For by David McCullough

Title:  The American Spirit: Who We Are and What We Stand For
Author: David McCullough
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: Simon Schuster
Publish Date: April 2017
Source: Library



What's the Story?:

From Goodreads.com: "Over the course of his distinguished career, David McCullough has spoken before Congress, the White House, colleges and universities, historical societies, and other esteemed institutions. Now, at a time of self-reflection in America following a bitter election campaign that has left the country divided, McCullough has collected some of his most important speeches in a brief volume designed to identify important principles and characteristics that are particularly American. The American Spirit reminds us of core American values to which we all subscribe, regardless of which region we live in, which political party we identify with, or our ethnic background. This is a book about America for all Americans that reminds us who we are and helps to guide us as we find our way forward."
  
My Two Cents:

I didn't realize what "The American Spirit" was about really when I picked it up but David McCullough is one of my very favorite historians and he is definitely on my automatic read list. This book is filled with speeches that the author has given everywhere from in front of Congress to commencement speeches in front of college students. This book is filled with inspiration and stories of parts of American history that it was good to be reminded of as well as stories that I was unfamiliar with.

This book is good for both those are familiar with McCullough's work and those that are not. Those that are familiar with McCullough will appreciate his special brand of storytelling that his fans are familiar with. His ability to link stories together into lessons for today and the future is fantastic. Those not familiar with all of these things are in for a treat as they experience him for the first time.

The speeches in this book are really good and touch a lot of different subjects. This book is good balm for these recent times when things seem so off kilter, strange, and strained in our country. I enjoyed this book!


 

Monday, October 16, 2017

Review: Satellite by Nick Lake

Title: Satellite
Author: Nick Lake
Format: ARC
Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers
Publish Date: October 3, 2017
Source: Publisher



What's the Story?:

From Goodreads.com: "He’s going to a place he’s never been before: home.

Moon 2 is a space station that orbits approximately 250 miles above Earth. It travels 17,500 miles an hour, making one full orbit every ninety minutes. It’s also the only home that fifteen-year-old Leo and two other teens have ever known.

Born and raised on Moon 2, Leo and the twins, Orion and Libra, are finally old enough and strong enough to endure the dangerous trip to Earth. They’ve been “parented” by teams of astronauts since birth and have run countless drills to ready themselves for every conceivable difficulty they might face on the flight.

But has anything really prepared them for life on terra firma? Because while the planet may be home to billions of people, living there is more treacherous than Leo and his friends could ever have imagined, and their very survival will mean defying impossible odds.
"


My Two Cents:

"Satellite" is the story of Leo who was born on a space station. He wasn't supposed to be born there but his mother's circumstances made it so she didn't find out she was pregnant until she was in space and it would have been too much for her and the baby to reenter the Earth's atmosphere. The small space station is the only home that Leo has ever known. Now, his body may be finally developed enough to go home.

This was a really interesting premise. Every once in awhile there seems to be talk of humans someday being able to live in space on various planets (I'm looking at you, Mars). This book takes this idea and turn it on its head. Leo and the twins Orion and Libra are not supposed to live in space but they end up being the first humans to do so and it's not at all what the space agency involved expected.

This is a coming of age story with a twist. Leo thinks he knows the whole story as to how and why he's on the space station but he finds out that there is much more. The adults in his life haven't told the whole story. I really liked how the author was able to slowly drop clues to keep you wanting to read about the true reason that Leo, Orion, and Libra are on the space station. This was a good read that would appeal to young adult readers who like sci fi.



Friday, October 13, 2017

Review: Mischling by Affinity Konar

Title: Mischling
Author: Affinity Konar
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: Lee Boudreaux Books 
Publish Date: September 6, 2016
Source: Library






What's the Story?:

From Goodreads.com: "Pearl is in charge of: the sad, the good, the past.

Stasha must care for: the funny, the future, the bad.

It's 1944 when the twin sisters arrive at Auschwitz with their mother and grandfather. In their benighted new world, Pearl and Stasha Zagorski take refuge in their identical natures, comforting themselves with the private language and shared games of their childhood.

As part of the experimental population of twins known as Mengele's Zoo, the girls experience privileges and horrors unknown to others, and they find themselves changed, stripped of the personalities they once shared, their identities altered by the burdens of guilt and pain.

That winter, at a concert orchestrated by Mengele, Pearl disappears. Stasha grieves for her twin, but clings to the possibility that Pearl remains alive. When the camp is liberated by the Red Army, she and her companion Feliks--a boy bent on vengeance for his own lost twin--travel through Poland's devastation. Undeterred by injury, starvation, or the chaos around them, motivated by equal parts danger and hope, they encounter hostile villagers, Jewish resistance fighters, and fellow refugees, their quest enabled by the notion that Mengele may be captured and brought to justice within the ruins of the Warsaw Zoo. As the young survivors discover what has become of the world, they must try to imagine a future within it."


My Two Cents:

"Mischling" is the story of two identical twin sisters who are sent to Auschwitz during World War II  with their mother and grandfather. As they are twins and identical twins at that, the infamous Dr. Joseph Mengele becomes incredibly interested in studying them in the concentration camp. Pearl and Stasha see themselves as two sides of the same coin. It means they share in the good but that they also must share the bad, which makes Mengele's experiments more insidious than they already were (hard to imagine to be sure).

Being the mother of identical twins, this book definitely frightened me and made me think a lot. I really like the way that the author was able to capture capture the bond between both of the sisters. It's through their incredible bond that they're able to protect their minds from all that they see in the concentration camp. It's incredibly powerful and definitely made me sad in a lot of places. This is the first fictional book that I have read that takes on Mengele's experiments and it is frightening!

The author uses a lot of detail which while uncomfortable, gives you a good sense of what people went through with regard to human experimentation. The narrative is divided up by the twins and how they see things a little differently, which I thought was good touch and definitely engaged me.

This book is very powerful and it's definitely a book that I have been thinking about long since I got to the last page.


 


Thursday, October 12, 2017

Review: We Can't Be Friends: A True Story by Cyndy Drew Etler

Title: We Can't Be Friends: A True Story
Author: Cyndy Drew Etler 
Format: Ebook
Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire
Publish Date: October 1, 2017
Source: Publisher



What's the Story?:

From Goodreads.com: "For the readers of GO ASK ALICE, TWEAK, and DEAR NOBODY, Etler details her turbulent readjustment to life at home and high school after spending sixteen months in Straight, Inc. Advertised as a rehab program for troubled teens, in reality, Straight subjected Cyndy and her fellow Straightlings to cultlike brainwashing and bizarre “treatment” methods. There was no privacy, no freedom, and no room for error. But when Cyndy is finally released, she discovers she’s living by an entirely different set of rules than her peers. What new extremes will she go to in order to fit in?"

My Two Cents:

"We Can't Be Friends" is the story of Cyndy, who ends up in Straight Inc. as a young teenager. Straight Inc. is billed as being a way to rehab kids so that they never do drugs or drink again but the program has a dark side. The program relies on some pretty harsh tactics and the reader is left questioning what cost Cyndy's sobriety (if you can really call what she was doing before an issue) came at.

I felt so much for Cyndy throughout this book. Because of some of the sort of brainwashing she goes through in Straight, she seems to have a lot of issues functioning in the real world once she's there again. She is constantly worried about the people around her and whether or not they are going to lead her back into addiction. This prevents her from making a lot of the connections that are so important to getting through the teenage years.

I had never heard about Straight before this book and it was terrifying. I think we can all agree that rehab is necessary and a good thing to have access to but Straight often seemed to hurt more than help. It was really eye opening to see what Cyndy went through.

I did wish that the book would have talked more about some of the specific tactics that Straight used to better understand some of what happens later on in the book. The Straight part goes by very quickly and the book mostly has to do with happened after. Overall, this was an interesting picture into a world that was unfamiliar to me!



Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Review: Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie

Title: Home Fire
Author: Kamila Shamsie
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: Riverhead Books
Publish Date: August 15, 2017
Source: Library



What's the Story?:

From Goodreads.com: "Isma is free. After years of watching out for her younger siblings in the wake of their mother’s death, she’s accepted an invitation from a mentor in America that allows her to resume a dream long deferred. But she can’t stop worrying about Aneeka, her beautiful, headstrong sister back in London, or their brother, Parvaiz, who’s disappeared in pursuit of his own dream, to prove himself to the dark legacy of the jihadist father he never knew. When he resurfaces half a globe away, Isma’s worst fears are confirmed.

Then Eamonn enters the sisters’ lives. Son of a powerful political figure, he has his own birthright to live up to—or defy. Is he to be a chance at love? The means of Parvaiz’s salvation? Suddenly, two families’ fates are inextricably, devastatingly entwined, in this searing novel that asks: What sacrifices will we make in the name of love?"


My Two Cents:

In "Home Fire," Isma, Aneeka, and Parvaiz grew up without parents. Isma feels like she is finally free from having to care for her siblings and she flees England to go to school in America. Aneeka and Parvaiz are twins and Aneeka very much seems to find her identity in their twinhood and going to school. Parvaiz is looking for something more. He wants to understand his father, who he never knew and who has been branded by the country Parvaiz now calls home as a terrorist. This journey will lead him down a dangerous path where there may be no return from.

This book has so many twists and turns and really kept me on my toes. In addition to the story of the siblings, there is the story of the new Home Secretary and his son. The new Home Secretary is of Muslim descent and is seeking to show that he is tough on extremists. His son is seeking his own life outside of his father's shadow. The Home Secretary's family and the siblings will clash in unbelievable ways that really shake this book up.

This book has a lot of universal themes, which makes for a lot of its appeal. You have the siblings questioning what they will do for family. You have several of the characters questioning their identities and what makes who we are as individuals. There is so much to mull over and this book is one that really sticks with you.

There were a lot of parts of this book that were quite shocking but the ending, oh, the ending. I really, really don't want to give anything away but the ending is one of those that you have to read a few times just because it is so shocking. It doesn't exactly give you closure but in this case, the ending really works well.


 

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

HFVBT Interview: Hazel Gaynor and Heather Webb, Authors of "Last Christmas in Paris"

I am very excited to welcome Hazel Gaynor and Heather Webb, Authors of "Last Christmas in Paris," here to A Bookish Affair.











Why do you think people are still so drawn to Paris today?


The City of Lights is the epitome of romance, and Paris is synonymous with love. The architecture, the culture, the food, the wine, the beautiful gardens - what’s not to love about that?! As a location for our novel, Paris offered the perfect blend of associations with romance and the First World War.

What inspired you both to write "Last Christmas in Paris?"
We had worked together on an anthology, Fall of Poppies, during 2015 and as that was nearing completion we both felt there was more we wanted to write about the war, and how a generation was so deeply affected by it. After a frenzied exchange over Facebook Messenger the concept for a co-written epistolary novel, told from the point of view of a young man at the Front and a young woman back in England, developed really quickly.

What was it like working with a co-author?
For each of us, this was the first time we’d worked with another author to write a novel, so it was an exciting and daunting prospect. There is a huge amount of trust and commitment involved on both sides and from the very beginning we were both so excited about this idea and our story and characters. There was something really special about having someone to bounce ideas off and work through plot along the way. From the moment we first heard the book had sold, right through the news of many foreign rights deals and stellar early reviews, we have loved having someone to celebrate it and share it all with. We made each other laugh and cry a lot along the way and it has been a truly rewarding experience. So much so that we hope to write together again. Watch this space!

What is each of your favorite scenes in the book?
Hazel loves the very last scene in Paris. It was so emotional to write, not only because it was the culmination of the story, but because it came with the realisation that we had done what we’d set out to do, and written a book we were both so very proud of.

Heather also loves that scene best, with a close second being the flurry of telegrams when Tom returns to London mid-war to visit his father and Evie. The dancing, the drives, the fancy dinners and laughs between them. We were first really beginning to develop their feelings for each other there, and that was so much fun to write! I think we sped through that section of the book with our hearts and heads on fire!

If you could bring three people, fictional or non-fictional, with you to a deserted island, who would you bring and why?
We would bring Tom, Evie and Alice from Last Christmas in Paris because in writing them, they became so real to us and it would be quite something to hang out with people who were formed purely from imagination! Also, they really need a vacation

Monday, October 9, 2017

HFVBT Review: Last Christmas in Paris: A Novel of World War I by Hazel Gaynor and Heather Webb

Title: Last Christmas in Paris: A Novel of World War I
Authors: Hazel Gaynor and Heather Webb
Format: ARC
Publisher: William Morrow 
Publish Date: October 3, 2017
Source: HFVBT


What's the Story?:

From Goodreads.com: "August 1914. England is at war. As Evie Elliott watches her brother, Will, and his best friend, Thomas Harding, depart for the front, she believes—as everyone does—that it will be over by Christmas, when the trio plan to celebrate the holiday among the romantic cafes of Paris.

But as history tells us, it all happened so differently…

Evie and Thomas experience a very different war. Frustrated by life as a privileged young lady, Evie longs to play a greater part in the conflict—but how?—and as Thomas struggles with the unimaginable realities of war he also faces personal battles back home where War Office regulations on press reporting cause trouble at his father’s newspaper business. Through their letters, Evie and Thomas share their greatest hopes and fears—and grow ever fonder from afar. Can love flourish amid the horror of the First World War, or will fate intervene?"


My Two Cents:

"Last Christmas in Paris" is the story of love that lasts through time. Evie only starts to write to Tom because he's her brother's best friend and she can't imagine having him think that no one is thinking of him while he is off fighting the war. As the war changes everyone, everywhere, and everything else they know, Evie and Tom both live for each other's letters. This epistolary novel had me turning the pages to see what would happen next!

I love epistolary novels (novels written through letters) because it allows you to jump right into the action. Not only are Evie and Tom's letters to each other included in the book but the letters between them and other secondary characters, including Will, Tom's best friend and Evie's brother. This allows us to see the story from all sides. The letters between Tom and Evie were interesting to follow as their relationship develops and changes. I also especially loved reading the letters talking about what was going on in the war and how each character played their part.

World War I is still not a subject that I seem to visit all that often in historical fiction but it's books like this that make me want to come back to it more, especially in light of what our world is going through now. There seems to be the echoes of this history today. The letters give readers a good sense of how people were feeling and what people were seeing throughout the war. You really get front row seat.

I would be remiss to not mention the romance between Tom and Evie. They start out as friends and their relationship takes all sorts of twists and turns that kept me cheering for them throughout the story. Their love will give you butterflies!

This is the warm kind of novel that you want to dive into when the weather starts to turn cool and you need something heartwarming! I enjoyed it!


 

Friday, October 6, 2017

TLC Book Tours: Caroline: Little House, Revisited by Sarah Miller

Title: Caroline: Little House, Revisited
Author: Sarah Miller 
Format: ARC
Publisher: William Morrow
Publish Date: September 19, 2017
Source: TLC Book Tours and HarperCollins 






What's the Story?:

From Goodreads.com: "In the frigid days of February, 1870, Caroline Ingalls and her family leave the familiar comforts of the Big Woods of Wisconsin and the warm bosom of her family, for a new life in Kansas Indian Territory. Packing what they can carry in their wagon, Caroline, her husband Charles, and their little girls, Mary and Laura, head west to settle in a beautiful, unpredictable land full of promise and peril.

The pioneer life is a hard one, especially for a pregnant woman with no friends or kin to turn to for comfort or help. The burden of work must be shouldered alone, sickness tended without the aid of doctors, and babies birthed without the accustomed hands of mothers or sisters. But Caroline’s new world is also full of tender joys. In adapting to this strange new place and transforming a rough log house built by Charles’ hands into a home, Caroline must draw on untapped wells of strength she does not know she possesses."


My Two Cents:

"Caroline: Little House, Revisited" is the story of Caroline Ingalls, the beloved Ma from Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House on the Prairie books. I loved those books growing up and always remember Ma seeming like the rock of the family as the Ingalls family faced the trials and tribulations of life as pioneers. This book gives a little more insight into what made Caroline tick and how strong she truly was. While this book will especially appeal to readers of the Little House books, Caroline will find a lot of new fans among historical fiction fans who want a portrait of a strong woman.

This book begins when the Ingalls family is getting ready to leave all they've known in Wisconsin. Charles and Caroline are deeply in love but have differing views as to whether or not to leave their families. They have two young children and Caroline can't imagine not having her family around to help with the children but she knows how important going west and settling land is to Charles so she goes. What I loved about this book is that we get so much more of Caroline's own story: how she grew up and how she wants her kids to grow up. Caroline is ALL THE MOM GOALS for me. Even when the going gets tough, she remains a calm, steady presence.

In the Little House books, she and Charles seem to have a pretty perfect relationship filled with love. This book gives us a much more nuanced portrait of their marriage. We see how Caroline compromises and how she and Charles work together for the good of their family. Although their roles are clearly defined, they are really good partners, which I loved reading about.

I really enjoyed this book and loved revisiting the Ingalls family.


 

Thursday, October 5, 2017

HFVBT Review: Twilight Empress by Faith L Justice

Title: Twilight Empress
Author: Faith L Justice
Format: Paperback
Publisher: Raggedy Moon
Publish Date: May 8, 2017
Source: HFVBT



What's the Story?:

From Goodreads.com: "One woman battles the coming Dark Ages. "Twilight Empress" tells the little-known story of a remarkable woman: Placidia, sister to one of the last Roman Emperors. Roman Empress and Gothic Queen, Placidia does the unthinkable: she rules the failing Western Roman Empire. A life of ambition, power, and intrigue she doesn't seek, but can't refuse, her actions shape the face of Western Europe for centuries. A woman as well as an empress, Placidia suffers love, loss, and betrayal. Can her intelligence, tenacity, and ambition help her survive and triumph over scheming generals, rebellious children, and Attila the Hun?"

My Two Cents:

In "Twilight Empress," Rome, once seen as unshakeable, is falling. Placidia becomes Empress at a time where Rome's power is slowly leaking. Never fully wanting power, Placidia steps up to the plate to rule Rome and try to take it back to stable ground. It's a fascinating story of a powerful woman and one that I was not really familiar with before.

This book covers a lot of what Placidia does to rule the empire and how she tries to consolidate power once again through various political alliances. And while all of this is interesting in itself, I was also interested in Placidia as a person. Here is a woman that tries to put on a brave face about the duties thrust upon her. Meanwhile she is trying to be a good mother to her children. I really enjoyed reading about the relationship between Placidia and her children. Oh boy, does she have her hands full in many different ways. As a mother myself, I found a lot of comfort in the idea that there are universal things like sibling rivalry that a mother must deal with (even when she doesn't have an empire to rule). The juxtaposition between Placidia trying to keep both her empire and her family together was interesting.

I really liked reading the descriptions of Rome in decline, just because it's a view that I haven't seen very often. I feel like most of my bookish jaunts to Ancient Rome have been in its heyday and this Rome was much different. The descriptions were good! 


Overall, this was a good read that gave me a new perspective. It was a promising start to a new series!


Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Review: Things Are What You Make of Them: Life Advice for Creatives by Adam J. Kurtz

Title: Things Are What You Make of Them: Life Advice for Creatives
Author: Adam J. Kurtz 
Format: Paperback
Publisher: Tarcherperigree
Publish Date: October 3, 2017 (Today!)
Source: Publisher



What's the Story?:

From Goodreads.com: "From the creative mind and heart of Adam J. Kurtz comes this quirky, upbeat rallying cry for creators of all stripes. Expanding on a series of popular guides he's created for Design*Sponge, this handwritten and heartfelt little book shares wisdom and empathy from one working artist to others. The advice is organized by topic, including:
(How to) Get Over Comparing Yourself to Other Creatives
Seeking & Accepting Help from Others
How to Get Over Common Creative Fears (Maybe)
How to Be Happy (or Just Happier)
As wry and cheeky as it is empathic and empowering, this deceptively simple, vibrantly full-color book will be a touchstone for writers, illustrators, designers, and anyone else who wants to be more creative--even when it would be easier to give up act normal."


My Two Cents:

"Things Are What You Make of Them" is the perfect chicken soup for the creative soul. No matter what form your creativity takes, we all know that every once in awhile you can use a boost, which is exactly what this book gives you.

Through equal doses of wit, wisdom, and inspiration, Kurtz reaches out to the creatives of all kinds. He encapsulates why we do what we do and how we can better serve our art and let it better serve us. While some of the advice is straight forward and probably close to many things that you've heard before, it is nice to have it in this nice, neat package for when you need a kick to get you going again.

As I think towards the holiday season (October is when I have the best intentions to start holiday shopping), I can think of a few friends who I'd love to get this book for. It would be a great gift for any of your creative friends who need a little bit of inspiration to help drive them forward.  



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