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Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Review: Two Empresses by Brandy Purdy

Title: Two Empresses
Author: Brandy Purdy
Format: ARC
Publisher: Kensington
Publish Date: January 31, 2017
Source: Author



What's the Story?:

From Goodreads.com: "1779, France. On the island paradise of Martinique, two beautiful, well-bred cousins have reached marriageable age. Sixteen-year-old Rose must sail to France to marry Alexander, the dashing Vicomte de Beauharnais. Golden-haired Aimee will finish her education at a French convent in hopes of making a worthy match.

Once in Paris, Rose’s illusions are shattered by her new husband, who casts her off when his mistress bears him a son. Yet revolution is tearing through the land, changing fortunes—and fates—in an instant, leaving Rose free to reinvent herself. Soon she is pursued by a young general, Napoleon Bonaparte, who prefers to call her by another name: Josephine.

Presumed dead after her ship is attacked by pirates, Aimee survives and is taken to the Sultan of Turkey’s harem. Among hundreds at his beck and call, Aimee’s loveliness and intelligence make her a favorite not only of the Sultan, but of his gentle, reserved nephew. Like Josephine, the newly crowned Empress of France, Aimee will ascend to a position of unimagined power. But for both cousins, passion and ambition carry their own burden."

My Two Cents:

"Two Empresses" is the story of Rose and Aimee, two cousins growing up on the island of Martinique. Their fates could not be more different. Rose will go on to become the consort of Napoleon in France. Aimee will become a part of the Turkish Sultan's harem. These are two fascinating stories and it is interesting to see two such different fates between members of the same family. This is the latest release from historical fiction author Brandy Purdy.

First off, this story kept me fascinated throughout the book. It's definitely a page turner because there is so much action throughout the story. That being said, you have two huuuuuge stories condensed into one fairly small book, which means that you're moving from one action to another so quickly that you hardly have time to stop and appreciate the interesting-ness of both Rose and Aimee's stories . Some of the book becomes a list of "then this happened," then this happened," and "then this happened." 

I wanted to get to know the characters a little more in this book. I have read both fiction and non-fiction about Rose (Napoleon's Josephine) before so she was a known entity to me at least. Aimee was brand new. Not as much is known about her so I felt like there was more of a story line based on what was known rather than just a list of facts as there seemed to be for most of the parts with Josephine in it. 

It is interesting that these two main characters were cousins but the various parts of the books felt like they were stuck together without having a true interwoven thread. That being said, both characters made great fodder for a book and I would love to be able to read more about them, particularly Aimee.


Monday, January 30, 2017

Review: Stolen Beauty by Laurie Lico Albanese

Title: Stolen Beauty
Author: Laurie Lico Albanese
Format: Ebook
Publisher: Atria Books
Publish Date: February 1, 2017
Source: Publisher



What's the Story?:

From Goodreads.com: "In the dazzling glitter of 1903 Vienna, Adele Bloch-Bauer—young, beautiful, brilliant, and Jewish—meets painter Gustav Klimt. Wealthy in everything but freedom, Adele embraces Klimt’s renegade genius as the two awaken to the erotic possibilities on the canvas and beyond. Though they enjoy a life where sex and art are just beginning to break through the façade of conventional society, the city is also exhibiting a disturbing increase in anti-Semitism, as political hatred foments in the shadows of Adele’s coffee house afternoons and cultural salons.

Nearly forty years later, Adele’s niece Maria Altmann is a newlywed when the Nazis invade Austria—and overnight, her beloved Vienna becomes a war zone. When her husband is arrested and her family is forced out of their home, Maria must summon the courage and resilience that is her aunt’s legacy if she is to survive and keep her family—and their history—alive.

Will Maria and her family escape the Nazis’ grip? And what will become of the paintings that her aunt nearly sacrificed everything for?"


My Two Cents:

In "Stolen Beauty," Adele Bloch-Bauer becomes just one of painter Gustav Klimt's many muses. It's the early 1900s and Europe is changing rapidly. Adele dreams of bringing art to her home in Vienna and she and her husband become two of the art world's major patrons in the city. During World War II, it is up to Adele's beloved niece to try to save the beloved painting of Adele (who is deceased by that point) for her uncle. This is an exciting book of love, passion, and art for historical fiction lovers.

I was initially drawn to this book by the inclusion of Gustav Klimt. I have long enjoyed his art (how could you not be stunned and taken in by all of the gorgeous figures and the gold, oh the gold?) but I did not know much about him at all. This book is so much more than just an exploration of his art though. Adele is a woman before her time. Her husband believes very much in the avant garde and encourages his wife's participation in the glittering art world of Vienna. Although Adele appreciates her husband's modern outlook, it takes her awhile to love him. That only comes much later once she begins to truly appreciate all that he has done for her. I loved the detail of Adele's life and all that she is able to do throughout the book.

Maria is quite different than Adele. Although she has still had the opportunity to grow up wealthy and privileged, that begins to fall away under the shadow of the Nazis. Maria's family is Jewish. So was Adele but in Adele's time, that did not hold her back. In Maria's time, Maria and her family are targets. We follow Maria as she tries to escape Europe: first landing in Liverpool, England and finally in California as a refugee. We see how she carves out a life for herself and is pulled back to the past to rescue paintings from the Austrian government that rightfully belong to her family as her uncle wanted.

The detail of the book is great. The author does a great job of bringing the worlds of both Adele and Maria to life. Adele's world is glittering. Maria's world is full of danger at every turn. Both of these women existed, which makes this book all the more fascinating. I thoroughly enjoyed it!



Friday, January 27, 2017

Review: The Silent Kookaburra by Liza Perrat

Title: The Silent Kookaburra
Author: Liza Perrat
Format: Ebook
Publisher: Triskele Books
Publish Date: November 29, 2016
Source: Author



What's the Story?:

From Goodreads.com: "All eleven-year-old Tanya Randall wants is a happy family. But Mum does nothing besides housework, Dad’s always down the pub and Nanna Purvis moans at everyone except her dog. Then Shelley arrives –– the miracle baby who fuses the Randall family in love for their little gumnut blossom. 

Tanya’s life gets even better when she meets an uncle she didn’t know she had. He tells her she’s beautiful and could be a model. Her family refuses to talk about him. But that’s okay, it’s their little secret. 

Then one blistering summer day tragedy strikes, and the surrounding mystery and suspicion tear apart this fragile family web. 

Embracing the social changes of 1970s Australia, against a backdrop of native fauna and flora, The Silent Kookaburra is a haunting exploration of the blessings, curses and tyranny of memory."

My Two Cents:

"The Silent Kookaburra" is a thriller from writer Liza Perrat. I've enjoyed some of Perrat's other books, all historical fiction. This one is a departure from genre for her and turned out to be a positive gamble for me! Tanya is a child who doesn't quite fit in. She's teased at school. At home, she feels ignored  and sometimes unloved. When her uncle that she knew nothing about enters the picture, it will upend her life and that of her family's.

The subject matter of the book is quite difficult. I really felt for a lot of the characters in this book because of the way that the author writes the details of their lives. Tanya's mother has gone through many miscarriages trying to expand their family so when she finally gives birth to Shelley, the family feels like all of their troubles are over at first. Shelley has severe colic and Tanya's mother starts acting strange and becomes obsessed with cleaning. Tanya seeks attention from her newfound uncle but it's not a good kind of attention. 

The pacing and writing of the book is good. Pacing is incredibly important with thrillers in order to keep up the intrigue of the book. As more bad things befall Tanya and her family, you are riveted by trying to put things together in order to figure out what is truly going on. The author gives you just enough detail to keep you wanting to continue the story because you want to find out more about what is going on and what will happen to the characters in the book. The author also does a great job of building tension throughout the book. I HAD to know how it was going to all end up for Tanya!

One limitation of the book is that Tanya, our narrator, is only a child when the book takes place so she doesn't always see what is truly going on. I did find myself wanting to know more about Uncle Blackie and what made him tick throughout the book but this wasn't a full distraction from enjoying the book.

Overall, this was a page turner for me. The subject matter is difficult (murder, abuse of a minor, etc.) so it may not be for all readers. If you like thrillers, this may be a good pick for you!


Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Review: The Department of Mad Scientists by Michael Belfiore

Title: The Department of Mad Scientists: How DARPA Is Remaking Our World, from the Internet to Artificial Limbs
Author: Michael Belfiore
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: Smithsonian
Publish Date: October 20, 2009
Source: Library



What's the Story?:

From Goodreads.com: "The first-ever inside look at DARPA—the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency—the maverick and controversial group whose futuristic work has had amazing civilian and military applications, from the Internet to GPS to driverless cars

America's greatest idea factory isn't Bell Labs, Silicon Valley, or MIT's Media Lab. It's the secretive, Pentagon-led agency known as DARPA. Founded by Eisenhower in response to Sputnik and the Soviet space program, DARPA mixes military officers with sneaker-wearing scientists, seeking paradigm-shifting ideas in varied fields—from energy, robotics, and rockets to peopleless operating rooms, driverless cars, and planes that can fly halfway around the world in just hours. DARPA gave birth to the Internet, GPS, and mind-controlled robotic arms. Its geniuses define future technology for the military and the rest of us."

My Two Cents:

"The Department of Mad Scientists" is the story about DARPA, which is an arm of the Department of Defense. DARPA has existed for a long time and has been sort of the research and development arm of the American military. Although it's part of DOD, a lot of the experiments and research and development that the group has done has helped to create some of the biggest technological advances the world has seen in the past few decades. Some of their projects have included the Internet and artificial limbs. I find their group absolutely fascinating and I was looking to read this book in order to get more information about the story of DARPA. 

Most of the book actually focuses on just a few of the different projects that the group has done. In fact, each chapter focuses on a different project that it has done. Some of the book tells a little bit about the history of the group, which is absolutely fascinating. I found the fact that each of the chapters only focused on one project to be a little bit limiting only because there are so many other things that this group has accomplished throughout its existence. 

The author relies on first-hand interviews in order to talk about each of the projects which lended a lot of credibility and detail to each of the different sections. This book is best if you only want a summary of the group and not end-all discussion on all that they've been through and all that they've done. This is at least a good introduction.


Monday, January 23, 2017

Review: The Radius of Us by Marie Marquardt

Title: The Radius of Us
Author: Marie Marquardt
Format: eARC
Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin
Publish Date: January 17, 2017
Source: Publisher/ Netgalley



What's the Story?:

From Goodreads.com: "Ninety seconds can change a life — not just daily routine, but who you are as a person. Gretchen Asher knows this, because that’s how long a stranger held her body to the ground. When a car sped toward them and Gretchen’s attacker told her to run, she recognized a surprising terror in his eyes. And now she doesn’t even recognize herself.

Ninety seconds can change a life — not just the place you live, but the person others think you are. Phoenix Flores-Flores knows this, because months after setting off toward the U.S. / Mexico border in search of safety for his brother, he finally walked out of detention. But Phoenix didn’t just trade a perilous barrio in El Salvador for a leafy suburb in Atlanta. He became that person — the one his new neighbors crossed the street to avoid.

Ninety seconds can change a life — so how will the ninety seconds of Gretchen and Phoenix’s first encounter change theirs?"


My Two Cents:

"The Radius of Us" is the story of Gretchen, a young woman who faced an assault so bad that she still experiences panic attacks well after the attack took place. It's also the story of Phoenix, who escaped from violent El Salvador in search of a new life. After ending up in detention in the United States, he is incredibly lucky to be adopted into a home in Atlanta. He'll have to get used to a brand new place while worrying about his little brother who is trapped in detention for underage children. This is a great book for young adults about a difficult subject.

I've said this before but it bears repeating: we need diverse books (look up the hashtag, all). It's so especially important for young adults. These books may be the first time that readers are able to dive into an issue like this. I really like the authors treatment of this difficult subject. In light of the election and its run up, illegal immigration has been very much in the spotlight. Sometimes it is hard to put a face on an issue. Although Phoenix is fictional, his story is very similar to so many young people out there who have come to the country illegally because the idea of staying in a bad situation in their own company was so unfathomable. It's important to see those examples in the books that we read so we can understand a little more about what it might be like to walk in somebody else's  shoes.

The writing of the book was good. The author did a great job of making the characters feel realistic through the details on their back stories. This is the second book that I've read by Marquardt and I really appreciate how she brings to life real issues without being preachy or sacrificing a good story for a message (although the message is certainly there).


 

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Review: When You're Feeling Sick by Coy Bowles

Title: When You're Feeling Sick
Author: Coy Bowles
Format: ARC
Publisher: Doubleday Books for Young Readers
Publish Date: January 10, 2017

Source: Publisher



What's the Story?:

From Goodreads.com: "Sneezing? Coughing? Taking a sick day? Don t worry, you ll be feeling better soon thanks to this hilarious picture book from Coy Bowles, guitarist of the Grammy Award winning Zac Brown Band. Full of encouraging and super-silly rhyming advice on how to face sick days with courage and a positive attitude, When You re Feeling Sick is just what the doctor ordered! Comes with a sheet of stickers to bring a smile to every sick kid s face.""

My Two Cents:

"When You're Feeling Sick" is a new book with some helpful advice for little ones facing a day in bed by Coy Bowles of the Zac Brown Band. My girls are finally getting to the age where they are starting to understand more about things like sick days and why they aren't feeling good. I enjoyed sharing this book with them!

The story itself is a good one. Everyone can use a little advice about how to best handle being sick without going crazy. The illustrations in this book are great! They are fun and colorful. My girls loved the pictures of the germy monsters especially. The story itself is fun but a bit clunky and lacking a bit of flow. My girls are too young to notice something like that but it threw me off my reading-out-loud game certainly. The story could have been a little bit smoother. Overall, this was a mixed bag for me but the author shows promise through his imagination!


 

Friday, January 20, 2017

Review: My Fair Lazy: One Reality Television Addict's Attempt to Discover If Not Being A Dumb Ass Is the New Black, or, a Culture-Up Manifesto by Jen Lancaster

Title: My Fair Lazy: One Reality Television Addict's Attempt to Discover If Not Being A Dumb Ass Is the New Black, or, a Culture-Up Manifesto
Author: Jen Lancaster
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: NAL
Publish Date: May 4, 2010
Source: Library



What's the Story?:

From Goodreads.com: "Readers have followed Jen Lancaster through job loss, sucky city living, weight loss attempts, and 1980s nostalgia. Now Jen chronicles her efforts to achieve cultural enlightenment, with some hilarious missteps and genuine moments of inspiration along the way. And she does so by any means necessary: reading canonical literature, viewing classic films, attending the opera, researching artisan cheeses, and even enrolling in etiquette classes to improve her social graces.

In Jen's corner is a crack team of experts, including Page Six socialites, gourmet chefs, an opera aficionado, and a master sommelier. She may discover that well-regarded, high-priced stinky cheese tastes exactly as bad as it smells, and that her love for Kraft American Singles is forever. But one thing's for certain: Eliza Doolittle's got nothing on Jen Lancaster-and failure is an option."


My Two Cents:

Quickie Review: I'm rapidly making my way through reading all of Jen Lancaster's books. My Fair Lazy is one of the few books that I haven't read. In this book, Jen goes on a journey where she is trying to better herself by trying to care about more than just reality TV and other frivolous things. She does a couple things in the book such as trying to learn about other cuisines as well as trying to read more difficult books (always my quest) in order to better herself.

As with so many of her books the best part of the book is her humor that she shows throughout the book. She has a very funny way of writing and as with her other books a lot of parts of this book had me laughing out loud. While this is not my favorite book of hers, her trademark snark is still present in this book. It is still a lot of fun!


 

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Review: The Dictator's Shadow: Life Under Augusto Pinochet by Heraldo Muñoz

Title: The Dictator's Shadow: Life Under Augusto Pinochet
Author: Heraldo Muñoz
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: Basic Books
Publish Date: September 2, 2008
Source: Library



What's the Story?:

From Goodreads.com: "Augusto Pinochet was the most important Third World dictator of the Cold War, and perhaps the most ruthless. In The Dictator’s Shadow, United Nations Ambassador Heraldo Muñoz takes advantage of his unmatched set of perspectives—as a former revolutionary who fought the Pinochet regime, as a respected scholar, and as a diplomat—to tell what this extraordinary figure meant to Chile, the United States, and the world.Pinochet’s American backers saw his regime as a bulwark against Communism; his nation was a testing ground for U.S.-inspired economic theories. Countries desiring World Bank support were told to emulate Pinochet’s free-market policies, and Chile’s government pension even inspired President George W. Bush’s plan to privatize Social Security. The other baggage—the assassinations, tortures, people thrown out of airplanes, mass murders of political prisoners—was simply the price to be paid for building a modern state. But the questions raised by Pinochet’s rule still remain: Are such dictators somehow necessary?

Horrifying but also inspiring, The Dictator’s Shadow is a unique tale of how geopolitical rivalries can profoundly affect everyday life."


My Two Cents:

"The Dictator's Shadow" is a nonfiction book about life under Agosto Pinochet in Chile. It talks about how Pinochet came to power and how he was able to consolidate his power for so long. Pinochet's regime is still a regime that is studied a lot in political science. Pinochet is a hero to some and a villain to others. His rise to power is very interesting, especially for me, a person who spent a lot of time in undergrad studying Latin American history.

Perhaps one of the most interesting things about this book is the author. Heraldo Munoz served under Salvador Allende, whose government Pinochet ousted and currently serves under Michelle Bachelet. He has seen his country through many different time periods and has often been on the front lines of great change. Because of who he has worked under, there is a bit of a political bend here, which is why it may be best to have a fair understanding of Chile's political history prior to reading this book.

Munoz gives a lot of detail about what Pinochet's government was like and how people lived their lives under it. It is a very interesting history because it is not just a regurgitation of the facts. He gives a lot of context about what was actually happening to the people of Chile from everything just repeating a list of what Pinochet did. This book will appeal most to those who have an interest in Latin America history and have a basic understanding of some of its recent history.


 

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Review: Year of Yes: How to Dance It Out, Stand In the Sun and Be Your Own Person by Shonda Rhimes

Title: Year of Yes: How to Dance It Out, Stand In the Sun and Be Your Own Person
Author: Shonda Rhimes
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: Simon and Schuster
Publish Date: November 10, 2015
Source: Library





 What's the Story?:

From Goodreads.com: "Before her Year of Yes, Shonda Rhimes was an expert at declining invitations others would leap to accept. With three children at home and three hit television shows on TV, it was easy to say that she was simply too busy. But in truth, she was also afraid. Afraid of cocktail party faux pas like chucking a chicken bone across a room; petrified of live television appearances where Shonda Rhimes could trip and fall and bleed out right there in front of a live studio audience; terrified of the difficult conversations that came so easily to her characters on-screen. In the before, Shonda’s introvert life revolved around burying herself in work, snuggling her children, and comforting herself with food.

And then, on Thanksgiving 2013, Shonda’s sister muttered something that was both a wake up and a call to arms: You never say yes to anything.

The comment sat like a grenade, until it detonated. Then Shonda, the youngest of six children from a supremely competitive family, knew she had to embrace the challenge: for one year, she would say YES to everything that scared her."


My Two Cents:

"The Year of Yes" is a memoir by Shonda Rimes, one of the most popular television series creators out there. I have loved so many of her shows like Scandal and Grey's Anatomy but what I didn't know about Shonda Rimes is that she is a major introvert and has always been afraid to say yes to things that might put her out of her comfort zone. This book is about the year that she decided to put all of that aside and say yes to everything, even the things she was incredibly afraid of.

In my own life I know that I say yes to too many things but I also know that I try to avoid the things that are going to make me feel like I'm putting myself too out there. I think it's a feeling that a lot of people can find understanding with. This book recounts how Shonda Rimes was able to turn things around by saying yes to more even if it meant stepping out of her comfort zone. She finds out that by being afraid, she was holding herself back. It's not rocket science but I think it is incredibly helpful to see how others have changed their lives to give you the power to want to change your own. It's a great lesson for us all!

I really like the way that this book was written. Rimes speaks to readers as friends and confidantes and really makes you feel like she's letting you in on a secret. I can only hope that I am able to heed some of her advice!
 


  

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Review: Black Flags: The Rise of ISIS by Joby Warrick

Title: Black Flags: The Rise of ISIS
Author: Joby Warrick
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: Doubleday
Publish Date: September 29, 2015
Source: Library




What's the Story?:

From Goodreads.com: "When he succeeded his father in 1999, King Abdullah of Jordan released a batch of political prisoners in the hopes of smoothing his transition to power. Little did he know that among those released was Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a man who would go on to become a terrorist mastermind too dangerous even for al-Qaeda and give rise to an Islamist movement bent on dominating the Middle East.

     Zarqawi began by directing hotel bombings and assassinations in Jordan from a base in northern Iraq, but it was the American invasion of that country in 2003 that catapulted him to the head of a vast insurgency. By identifying him as the link between Saddam and bin Laden, the CIA inadvertently created a monster. Like-minded radicals saw him as a hero resisting the infidel occupiers and rallied to his cause. Their wave of brutal beheadings and suicide bombings continued for years until Jordanian intelligence provided the Americans with the crucial intelligence needed to eliminate Zarqawi in a 2006 airstrike.


     But his movement endured, first called al-Qaeda in Iraq, then renamed Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, seeking refuge in unstable, ungoverned pockets on the Iraq-Syria border. And as the Syrian civil war broke out in 2011, ISIS seized its chance to pursue Zarqawi's dream of a sweeping, ultra-conservative Islamic caliphate. 


     Drawing on unique access to CIA and Jordanian sources, Joby Warrick weaves together heart-pounding, moment-by-moment operational details with overarching historical perspectives to reveal the long trajectory of today's most dangerous Islamic extremist threat."


My Two Cents: 

"Black Flags" is a fantastic book that explores the origins of ISIS/ ISIL/ da'esh (choose your fave) and why and how the group has become such a force for evil throughout the world. If you paid any attention to this past election cycle in the United States, you couldn't go but a minute for without hearing something about ISIS. The terrorist group is one of the number one threats (if not the number one threat) causing disruption throughout the entire world. This book explores how ISIS came to be and especially focuses on Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi, one of the masterminds of the organization.

This is such an important read in order to understand how this group came to be and why it is so difficult to combat them. I thought that the author did a really good job of explaining the situation to people who may not think about current events so much as well is giving new information and insight to those who follow current events very closely. Especially in the political climate of today, books like this are so important to thoroughly read in order to understand what is going on and what we are facing in the broader scope of the world. This book has a ton of detail and I thought the author did a good job of making information accessible to everyone. This is definitely an important read and a well-done one at that!



Monday, January 16, 2017

Happy Martin Luther King, Jr. Day!

Today is Martin Luther King, Jr. Day here in the United States! In honor of the day, I wanted to share some of my favorite MLK quotes!



“Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.” 

“Faith is taking the first step even when you can't see the whole staircase.”  

“If you can't fly then run, if you can't run then walk, if you can't walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward.” 

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”  

“We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.”

Do you have any favorite MLK quotes?

Friday, January 13, 2017

Review: Matilda by Roald Dahl

Title: Matilda
Author: Roald Dahl
Format: Paperback
Publisher: Puffin
Publish Date: 1988
Source: Owned (finally!)



What's the Story?:

From Goodreads.com: "Matilda is a little girl who is far too good to be true. At age five-and-a-half she's knocking off double-digit multiplication problems and blitz-reading Dickens. Even more remarkably, her classmates love her even though she's a super-nerd and the teacher's pet. But everything is not perfect in Matilda's world. For starters she has two of the most idiotic, self-centered parents who ever lived. Then there's the large, busty nightmare of a school principal, Mrs. ("The") Trunchbull, a former hammer-throwing champion who flings children at will and is approximately as sympathetic as a bulldozer. Fortunately for Matilda, she has the inner resources to deal with such annoyances: astonishing intelligence, saintly patience, and an innate predilection for revenge.

She warms up with some practical jokes aimed at her hapless parents, but the true test comes when she rallies in defense of her teacher, the sweet Miss Honey, against the diabolical Trunchbull. There is never any doubt that Matilda will carry the day. Even so, this wonderful story is far from predictable. Roald Dahl, while keeping the plot moving imaginatively, also has an unerring ear for emotional truth. The reader cares about Matilda because in addition to all her other gifts, she has real feelings."


My Two Cents:

One of the best things about being an adult is that I can buy all of the books I want. Okay, maybe not all of the books because there would just not be room for my family and I if I bought ALL OF THE BOOKS but I can buy my favorites from the different seasons of my life. Growing up, I was lucky enough that my dad would take me to the library whenever I wanted. One of the books that I checked out countless times was Matilda by one of my favorite authors, Roald Dahl.

If you're a book lover, this book will resonate with you, even if you are an adult. Matilda is a book lovers' character. She breathes books. She believes in the power of books to change her life and they definitely do. I loved her as a child for many of the same reasons that I love her now. She is secure in her own power even with her family constantly telling her that she's worthless because she speaks her mind and is interested in more than just "watching the telly." She isn't afraid to be different and she believes in herself. She's a great, strong character and one that has stood the test of time.

Roald Dahl is still one of my favorite authors. His books, including Matilda, are incredibly inventive and entertaining. I love how vivid his characters are. He knows how to write in such a way to get kids to want to read and to be interested in what is happening to the characters throughout the book. Not only is our main character, Matilda, amazing but it's hard to forget secondary characters like Miss Honey and The Trunchbull. This was such a fun re-read for me!
  


 

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Leaving for Las Vegas! Help!



I feel bad complaining about the cold since it's going to be really warm here in the DMV by the end of the week. I am counting down the days until I can hop a plane and go to Las Vegas this weekend with the Husband. This will be the first real vacation that we've had since having our girls. This will also be my first time in Las Vegas and I always love exploring new places!

Now Las Vegas has never been high on my places-to-travel list. I am not a big gambler. I have nothing against it but I only really know how to play blackjack and slot machines feel a little boring to me. We are going out to support my best friend and her husband as they officially launch their company. I'm sure we'll have a good time!

So I need help! What should we do in Las Vegas? Have any of you ever been? What are some of your not-to-be-missed sights?


Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Review: A Perilous Undertaking by Deanna Raybourn

Title: A Perilous Undertaking
Author: Deanna Raybourn
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: Berkley Books
Publish Date: January 10, 2017 (Today!)
Source: Publisher



What's the Story?:

From Goodreads.com: "Veronica Speedwell returns in a brand new adventure from Deanna Raybourn, the New York Times bestselling author of the Lady Julia Grey mysteries...

London, 1887 . . Victorian adventuress and butterfly hunter Veronica Speedwell receives an invitation to visit the Curiosity Club, a ladies-only establishment for daring and intrepid women. There she meets the mysterious Lady Sundridge, who begs her to take on an impossible task saving society art patron Miles Ramsforth from execution. Accused of the brutal murder of his artist mistress Artemisia, Ramsforth will face the hangman's noose in a week s time if Veronica cannot find the real killer.

But Lady Sundridge is not all that she seems and unmasking her true identity is only the first of the many secrets Veronica must uncover. Together with her natural historian colleague Stoker, Veronica races against time to find the true murderer a ruthless villain who not only took Artemisia s life in cold blood but is happy to see Ramsforth hang for the crime."


My Two Cents:

"A Perilous Undertaking" is the second book in the Veronica Speedwell series by Deanna Raybourn. I loved the first book in the series and was very excited to get back to Veronica's adventures in Victorian England. I was not disappointed with this book! While this book can largely be read as a standalone, I wholeheartedly recommend reading the first book as it is a good one. Also, it'll give you greater insight into Veronica and some of the other characters in the book.

Veronica is such a good heroine. She is whip smart and funny throughout the book. She uses her wits to solve the mystery at the center of the book. Lady Sundridge wants Miles exonerated and Veronica is down for the job and will find satisfaction simply solving the mystery. However, Veronica also wants to figure out more about Lady Sundridge and whether or not she holds the key to shedding light on exactly where Veronica came from. I really liked following Veronica and Stoker as they solve the mystery. They have a great banter that kept me entertained.

In this book, we get more insight into her character and where she came from. Since she is the product of an illicit relationship, her full origin is still shrouded in a good bit of mystery. We also find out more about Stoker and why he doesn't have the warmest relationship with his family. I really liked how the author built the characters with a bit more detail in this book. It made me feel more in tune with them. I am anxious to see what future books hold for these characters!


 

Monday, January 9, 2017

2017 Reading Challenges

Every turn of the year, I try to make some reading resolutions for the upcoming year. When I started thinking about 2017, one thing that kept coming up for me is that I wanted to read a little more out of my comfort zone and I wanted to push myself a little further. I came up with several challenges that I want to really push myself with.

Here they are:
And as always, I'm on a quest to read more of my own books. I did terribly with this last year but 2017 is a new year, no? So here I go again!

To keep me honest (and on track), I will be posting updates on my progress at the beginning of each new month. I am hoping that this will help me be a little more successful than I was last year!






Are you participating in any book challenges for 2017?

Friday, January 6, 2017

Review: Flying Lessons and Other Stories by Ellen Oh (Editor), Sherman Alexie, Jacqueline Woodson, Kwame Alexander, Walter Dean Myers, Meg Medina, Tim Tingle, Kelly J. Baptist, Soman Chainani, Matt de la Pena, Tim Federle, Grace Lin

Title: Flying Lessons and Other Stories
Authors:  Ellen Oh (Editor), Sherman Alexie, Jacqueline Woodson, Kwame Alexander, Walter Dean Myers, Meg Medina, Tim Tingle, Kelly J. Baptist, Soman Chainani, Matt de la Pena, Tim Federle, Grace Lin
Format: Ebook
Publisher: Crown Books for Young Readers
Publish Date: January 3, 2017
Source: Publisher



What's the Story?

From Goodreads.com: "Whether it is basketball dreams, family fiascos, first crushes, or new neighborhoods, this bold anthology—written by the best children’s authors—celebrates the uniqueness and universality in all of us.

In a partnership with We Need Diverse Books, industry giants Kwame Alexander, Soman Chainani, Matt de la Peña, Tim Federle, Grace Lin, Meg Medina, Walter Dean Myers, Tim Tingle, and Jacqueline Woodson join newcomer Kelly J. Baptist in a story collection that is as humorous as it is heartfelt. This impressive group of authors has earned among them every major award in children’s publishing and popularity as New York Times bestsellers.

From these distinguished authors come ten distinct and vibrant stories."

My Two Cents:

One of the things that initially got me into reading as a youngster was the ability that books had to let me see through new eyes and walk that proverbial mile in someone else's shoes. I think it is so important for everyone but for children and teenagers to have access to a wide variety of books that reflect all different walks of life and experience. That is just one reason that I am such a big supporter of the "We Need Diverse Books" movement. It's an important step forward for the book industry and I'm happy to see anthologies like this come out to take the movement forward!

If you read middle grade fiction, it is easy to see that the line up of authors included in the book is truly a powerhouse. Each author brings their own unique voice to the collection. I had two favorite stories in the book. First, I loved the story about a boy who finds a fantastical story that his father secretly wrote about the boy and the boy takes the idea and turns it into a story for a story contest. My other favorite was about a boy who gets dragged to Europe by his crazy grandmother and discovers how to break out of his shell.

There is a lot to love about this collection. All of the stories are incredibly different and will introduce readers to memorable characters. If you don't know some of these authors already, it will also introduce you to some of the brightest voices in middle grade fiction today. This is a great collection and one that I know that I will be recommending a lot. It would make a great gift for the middle graders in your life.


Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Author Guest Post: Andrew Joyce on Sand Paintings

My name is Andrew Joyce and I write books for a living. Meg has allowed me on her blog today to promote my latest, Yellow Hair. It’s a fact-based work of fiction about the Sioux Nation. Yellow Hair is an epic tale of adventure, family, love, and hate that spans most of the 19th century. But instead of taking up your time with a commercial, I’d like to talk about a personal experience I once had concerning another tribe. Because of space considerations, I’ll have to be succinct. Here is my story.
I ran into Jimmy of The Dené in the summer of 1967 when I was seventeen-years-old. I was hitchhiking, trying to get to California from my home in Miami, Florida, but I got sidetracked along the way and ended up in Peoria, Illinois. I only mention this because I found myself on the fabled Route 66.
I had no map and I was rather lost, but a kind man that I met at a gas station told me to keep on 66 and it would lead me right into Los Angeles. What it did … was lead me into one of the most profound experiences of my life.
A day later, I was standing by the side of the road outside of Gallup, New Mexico, just before sunset, hoping to catch a ride at least as far as Flagstaff before it got full dark. As the sun kissed the rim of the earth, turning the western sky a bright, fiery orange, an old beat-up, blue pickup truck screeched to a halt; the driver leaned toward the open passenger window and said, “Where ya going?”
“LA.”
“I ain’t going that far, but I can get you down the road a bit.”
I threw my kit in the back, opened the door, and got inside.
The guy hit the accelerator, lurching the truck back onto the asphalt—spewing rocks and pebbles in its wake.
Before he hit second gear, and with his eyes still on the road, he said, “My name’s Jimmy. Glad to meet ya.”
I told him my name and we settled into a comfortable silence as we raced toward the setting sun. When you’re hitching, you go with the flow. Most people pick you up because they want someone to talk to, but this guy seemed to like things quiet, which was fine with me.
About fifteen minutes later, he spoke up. “I turn off up ahead and it’s getting dark. You wanna crash on my couch? I’ll drive you back to the highway in the morning.”
I didn’t have to think twice about it. A couch sure beat sleeping on the side of the road. It gets damp out there in the early morning hours.
Jimmy then told me he was a Navajo and lived on the reservation. We turned off the highway and headed north down a bumpy dirt road. Eventually we came to a trailer sitting all by itself.
“We live in a corner of the reservation, away from the others. The reservation is 27,000 square miles, so there’s plenty of room. The only problem is, there’s no electricity out here,” said Jimmy.
As we walked up to the trailer, Jimmy informed me that he lived with his grandfather. “He is a medicine man and he speaks very little English. His name is Ti՜éhonaa՜éi Lizhini—Black Moon in English. I will interpret for him.”
I followed Jimmy into the trailer. It was dark inside, the only light coming from a lantern that sat on the kitchen table. Off to my right, I saw an old man standing at a propane stove, stirring something in a large kettle. Jimmy said, “Yá'át'ééh, Análi.” He turned to me and kind of apologized for not speaking in English by saying, “I just said, ‘Hello, Grandfather’.” Then he added, “Why don’t you go sit on the couch and I’ll explain to him that you will be joining us for dinner and staying the night.”
I made myself comfortable on the couch, my only thought: Whatever the old man is cooking sure smells good.
I’m gonna cut out all the small talk that passed between me and Jimmy while his grandfather prepared the dinner and take you to the scene as we sat around the kitchen table.
As we started eating our deer stew, I said to Jimmy, “I never met any Navajos before.”
“We call ourselves The Dené. It means The People. We got the name Navajo from the Spanish. They called us Apachu de Nabajo. It means “Apaches Who Farm in the Valley.”
When I had eaten a good portion of the stew, I smiled at Black Moon and pointed to my bowl. “Good,” I said. He smiled back and nodded his head. Then started talking a mile a minute in the Navajo language. Of course, I could not understand what he was saying, but Jimmy listened and nodded his head. Turning to me, he said, “Grandfather wants me to tell you how the Navajo came to be on the earth. I’ll tell you the short version because I don’t want to bore you.”
“You won’t bore me. This is why I’m on the road. I want to meet new people and learn things.”
“I may not bore you, but the whole story is too long. We’re gonna have to hit the hay soon. My grandfather needs to be at the Sacred Mountain before sunrise. I’ll drive him there and then take you to the highway.”
As I ate my stew, Jimmy started in on his narrative.
“Basically, our creation story goes like this: The first world is, Nihodilhil or Black World. The whole world was pitch black, but there were four clouds in the sky: the Blue Cloud, the Yellow, the Black, and the White Cloud. The Blue and Yellow Clouds came together and formed First Woman. Then the Black and White Clouds did the same and formed First Man.
“Seeing First Man’s fire, First Woman made her way to him. He asked her to live with him and she agreed. They did not want to live in the darkness forever, so they searched until they found the path to Ni՜hodootl՜izh, the Blue World. They climbed the mountain path until they emerged into the new world.
“Once there, they found many animals that were at war with one another. Coyote also lived there. He traveled in the four directions of the four winds and saw that the beings who lived there were not happy and wanted to leave the Blue World. This he told First Man.
“First Man made four wands. One of black stone, one of turquoise, one of abalone, and one was made of shell. Using those wands, the beings of the second world followed First Man and First Woman into Nihaltsoh, the Yellow World. There they found the Four Sacred Mountains.
“First Man planted a reed and it grew to the sky. First Man, First Woman, Coyote, and the other beings used the reed to climb into Nihalgai, the Glittering World. That is the world in which we live.”
When Jimmy had finished speaking, his grandfather reached across the table, patted my hand, and said something in the Navajo tongue. Jimmy translated his words.
“My grandfather likes you. He says you are young and you will live a long time. He wanted you to know our creation story so that you can tell other white men. He has also invited you to watch him build his sandpainting in the morning. He is almost finished. It is an honor that he has asked you, but I will tell him that you must be on your journey.”
“Not so fast, Jimmy. I’ve got nowhere I gotta be and no one waiting for me when I get there. I would love to see him build his sandpainting. Although I do have one question. What is a sandpainting?”
“I will tell you in the morning. Now we sleep.”
The next morning, Jimmy shook me awake before dawn. “Are you ready?” he asked. I was still half asleep and had to think for a minute. The smell of fresh-brewed coffee brought me around. “Sure. As ready as I’ll ever be.”
“Then help yourself to some coffee. The cups are on the counter. Sorry, we have no milk or sugar.”
“I’ll live.”
“Good. Grandfather is getting dressed. We’ll be leaving in about ten minutes.”
I poured myself some coffee and took the cup outside to take in the cold desert morning. The stars in the sky blew me away. Having been raised in a city, I had never seen so many stars. I drank my coffee and enjoyed the view.
Soon the door opened and Jimmy and his grandfather came out.
We piled into the truck with Black Moon sitting between Jimmy and me. We took off down the same worn dirt road that we had come in on. But this time we were going farther onto the reservation. After a few minutes, I asked Jimmy to tell me about sandpaintings.
“They are used in our curing ceremonies to attract The Holy Ones. They are made with crushed stone, ground minerals, and pollen. And sometimes, flowers. Oh yeah, and, of course, sand. The ground is prepared first and then the medicine man sets about building his painting. Once it is complete, he will chant to sanctify it. Then the sick person sits on it, and the medicine man does a ritual chant, to bring forth the healing powers of The Holy Ones. That’s all there is to it.”
I nodded like I understood what he was talking about. Just to say something, I asked where we were headed.
“We are going to Doko'oosliid. It is one of the Four Sacred Mountains. Nowadays, most medicine men build their sandpaintings in a hogan, but my grandfather likes the old ways. He says that doing the ceremony in the cave of a sacred mountain hastens the curing process.”
We pulled up to the base of a mountain and Jimmy announced that we were at our destination. Black Moon smiled at me as he got out of the truck and took me by the hand. He led me off to the right. Jimmy yelled after us that he would catch up as soon as he filled the lantern with oil.
When we got to the mouth of the cave, Black Moon pointed to the ground and said, “You stay.” He then went inside. Less than a minute later, Jimmy walked up holding a lantern.
“I feel like a dog. Your grandfather told me to ‘stay’.”
Jimmy held out the lantern in my direction. “Hold this,” he said.
As I held the lantern and Jimmy lit it, he explained. “The paintings are on the floor of the cave. It would not be good to walk over one of them. My grandfather knows his way around and there is a lantern in there that he will light. By the time we go in, bringing this lantern, there will be plenty of light. Also, he needs some time alone to say his prayers before he starts his work. We will give him a few more minutes and then go in. And when we go in, please do not talk. It will distract my grandfather.”
Five minutes later, we walked into the cave. There was a yellow light reflecting off the walls about fifty feet in. I was behind Jimmy, who held the lantern. “Step where I step,” he instructed in a whisper. “There are two paintings up ahead. One is completed; one my grandfather will be working on.”
I followed Jimmy, being careful to walk in his path. Before we got to the back of the cave, he stopped and held the lantern out to his left and pointed. And there it was—a finished sandpainting. I couldn’t believe the detail, the vibrant colors, the majesty of the thing. I was speechless. And here it is five decades later and I still don’t have the words to describe what I saw that day, which is ironic, seeing as how I make my living with words.
We continued on to where Black Moon sat on the ground, focused on his art, with seven small bowls within arms’ reach—each filled with a different substance, and each substance a different color. For two hours, I sat across from him and watched him work. As I said at the beginning of this narrative, it was a profound experience.
Presently, Jimmy nudged me and tilted his head toward the cave entrance. It was time to leave. The whole time we were there, his grandfather did not once acknowledge our presence. Outside, Jimmy extinguished the lantern and started to walk toward the truck. But after a few steps, he stopped and turned to me. “My grandfather told me to tell you this. He wanted you to see the paintings and how they are built. You are the first white person he has ever allowed to see him work. He wants you to bring the word to your white friends that we are not savages, that our religion is as strong as yours, and that we worship the same god.”
“I will remember that, Jimmy. And I will spread the word. But what happens to the paintings once the ceremony is complete? They are so beautiful.”
“They are destroyed and the materials collected and returned to the earth. They are only meant to exist for a few days.”
What!”
“It is our way.”
Jimmy got me back to the highway, we shook hands, and I continued on my journey a different person than I had been twenty-four hours earlier. But is that not the way of life? At the end of each day, should we not be a person different from the one that started the day?
With this missive, I offer a few examples of sand paintings so you can see for yourself why words fail me.



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