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Friday, December 14, 2018

Review: Endurance: A Year in Space, A Lifetime of Discovery by Scott Kelly

Title: Endurance: A Year in Space, A Lifetime of Discovery
Author: Scott Kelly
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: Knopf Publishing Group
Publish Date: October 17, 2017
Source: Library



What's the Story?:

From Goodreads.com: "The veteran of four space flights and the American record holder for consecutive days spent in space, Scott Kelly has experienced things very few have. Now, he takes us inside a sphere utterly inimical to human life. He describes navigating the extreme challenge of long-term spaceflight, both existential and banal: the devastating effects on the body; the isolation from everyone he loves and the comforts of Earth; the pressures of constant close cohabitation; the catastrophic risks of depressurization or colliding with space junk, and the still more haunting threat of being unable to help should tragedy strike at home--an agonizing situation Kelly faced when, on another mission, his twin brother's wife, Gabrielle Giffords, was shot while he still had two months in space. Kelly's humanity, compassion, humor, and passion resonate throughout, as he recalls his rough-and-tumble New Jersey childhood and the youthful inspiration that sparked his astounding career, and as he makes clear his belief that Mars will be the next, ultimately challenging step in American spaceflight."

My Two Cents:

"Endurance" is an amazing memoir by Scott Kelly, NASA astronaut. This book spoke to me on a few levels. First, I am fascinated by anything having to do with space. Also, as I have identical twins of my own, I've been super interested in both following Scott and his identical twin brother, Mark, through their careers and through the studies that NASA did on the brothers as Scott spent a year in space while Mark remained here on earth.

In this book, Scott goes through his life before becoming an astronaut as well as in depth detail into his life as one of the few Americans to enter space through the Space Program. I loved his detail about all of the training that he had to go through. Let me say, astronauts are no joke. It's no wonder they are so good at their jobs with the amazing amount of work that they have to go through just to possibly get chosen for a mission (a mission is not assured even if you get to the point of being an astronaut).


His ruminations of what it was like to be in space, especially for the year-long mission to the International Space Station was really something. Here is a man that has had an experience that no one else in the world has had and the way that he describes it makes you feel like you are right there with him. I really enjoyed it!


Thursday, December 13, 2018

Review: The Swooping Magpie by Liza Perrat

Title: The Swooping Magpie
Author: Liza Perrat
Format: Ebook
Publisher: Self-published
Publish Date: October 23, 2018
Source: Author




What's the Story?:

From Goodreads.com: "The thunderclap of sexual revolution collides with the black cloud of illegitimacy. 

Sixteen-year-old Lindsay Townsend is pretty and popular at school. At home, it’s a different story. Dad belts her and Mum’s either busy or battling a migraine. So when sexy school-teacher Jon Halliwell finds her irresistible, Lindsay believes life is about to change. 

She’s not wrong. 

Lindsay and Jon pursue their affair in secret, because if the school finds out, Jon will lose his job. If Lindsay’s dad finds out, there will be hell to pay. But when a dramatic accident turns her life upside down, Lindsay is separated from the man she loves. 

Events spiral beyond her control, emotions conflicting with doubt, loneliness and fear, and Lindsay becomes enmeshed in a shocking true-life Australian scandal. The schoolyard beauty will discover the dangerous games of the adult world. Games that destroy lives. 

Lindsay is forced into the toughest choice of her young life. The resulting trauma will forever burden her heart."

My Two Cents:

"The Swooping Magpie" is the story of Lindsey, a teen who is lonely at home, who falls for her manipulative P.E. teacher, Jon. Lindsey is thrilled by their secret love and when she gets pregnant, she sees it as a way to run away from her home life. Her parents force her into a home for unwed mothers where Lindsey is surrounded by other girls that have gotten pregnant. Lindsey will have to break out of her self-centered shell in order to protect her heart. 

Lindsey is definitely a character that grew on me throughout the book. At first, she annoyed me with her self-centered-ness and her immaturity when it came to her relationship with Jon. She really undergoes a change throughout the book as she has to grow up very quickly. I liked seeing how her decision-making process changes and she determines what really matters to her. I love seeing characters go through transitions like this!

I haven't read a lot of books set in Australia or the 1970s so I really liked the descriptions of the time and the place. I thought the author did a good job of balancing the world of the characters with what was going on around them. I had no context for the feelings against the Vietnam War in Australia. I know there were massive protests and movements in the United States so it was interesting to see the feelings in Australia.

This book is a slow burn and really picks up around the midpoint. I don't want to give anything away but there is a decision that Lindsey has to make in order to move towards what she wants in life that really sped things up. Overall, this was an enjoyable read!


Wednesday, December 12, 2018

A Bookish Tragedy!

I just arrived back on Monday from a trip to Zimbabwe! It is an absolutely stunning place and if you ever get the chance to go, go!




















Lovely, no? But I had a very sad thing happen while I was there. Let me first take you to the scene of the crime:





See that big, beautiful tub in my hotel room! That big, beautiful tub drowned my Kindle (or perhaps I dropped my Kindle). The details don't matter but what matters is that my Kindle is now in Kindle heaven by way of drowning. RIP, dear friend!

I do have an iPad but I don't really like reading anything longer than an article on it as the backlight really bothers my eyes! Desperate times call for desperate measures and I did do a lot of reading on my iPad. I am so happy to be back to the land where all of my physical books are! Now I definitely know what I'm asking Santa for for Christmas!

Monday, December 10, 2018

Review: The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane by Lisa See

Title: The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane 
Author: Lisa See
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: Scribner
Publish Date: March 21, 2017
Source: Library



What's the Story?:

From Goodreads.com: "Li-yan and her family align their lives around the seasons and the farming of tea. There is ritual and routine, and it has been ever thus for generations. Then one day a jeep appears at the village gate—the first automobile any of them have seen—and a stranger arrives.

In this remote Yunnan village, the stranger finds the rare tea he has been seeking and a reticent Akha people. In her biggest seller, Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, See introduced the Yao people to her readers. Here she shares the customs of another Chinese ethnic minority, the Akha, whose world will soon change. Li-yan, one of the few educated girls on her mountain, translates for the stranger and is among the first to reject the rules that have shaped her existence. When she has a baby outside of wedlock, rather than stand by tradition, she wraps her daughter in a blanket, with a tea cake hidden in her swaddling, and abandons her in the nearest city.

After mother and daughter have gone their separate ways, Li-yan slowly emerges from the security and insularity of her village to encounter modern life while Haley grows up a privileged and well-loved California girl. Despite Haley’s happy home life, she wonders about her origins; and Li-yan longs for her lost daughter. They both search for and find answers in the tea that has shaped their family’s destiny for generations."


My Two Cents:

"The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane" is yet another good one by Lisa See. I loved this book so much! See has a great way of making people and situations that may seem unfamiliar to readers accessible to them. Li-yan's family has been in the tea business for ages and it is what they dedicate so much of their time towards. Li-yan dreams of breaking away but isn't sure how to do it until she finds herself pregnant out of wedlock. This will open many new doors and close many others for Li-yan, a character that you will fall in love with.

As with Lisa See's other books, the detail in this book is great. Aside from the characters and their drama, See introduces us to the tea making and drinking business. Li-yan's family is beholden to the businessman that comes to get tea specifically from their mountain. He can provide them with riches but must always be obeyed. I learned so much about the tea business and while I love drinking tea, I can't say that I had ever given much thought to the business before.

I loved the characters in this book, especially our main character Li-Yan. Smart and resourceful, she never gives up. I loved following her through this book through all of her triumphs and tribulations. I don't want to give anything away but this book also had one of the most moving endings that I have read in awhile.


 

Friday, December 7, 2018

Review: Unbearable Lightness: A Story of Loss and Gain by Portia de Rossi

Title: Unbearable Lightness: A Story of Loss and Gain
Author: Portia de Rossi
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: Atria Books
Publish Date: November 1, 2010
Source: Library



What's the Story?:

From Goodreads.com: "In this searing, unflinchingly honest book, Portia de Rossi captures the complex emotional truth of what it is like when food, weight, and body image take priority over every other human impulse or action. She recounts the elaborate rituals around eating that came to dominate hours of every day, from keeping her daily calorie intake below 300 to eating precisely measured amounts of food out of specific bowls and only with certain utensils. When this wasn't enough, she resorted to purging and compulsive physical exercise, driving her body and spirit to the breaking point.

Even as she rose to fame as a cast member of the hit television shows Ally McBeal and Arrested Development, Portia alternately starved herself and binged, all the while terrified that the truth of her sexuality would be exposed in the tabloids. She reveals the heartache and fear that accompany a life lived in the closet, a sense of isolation that was only magnified by her unrelenting desire to be ever thinner. With the storytelling skills of a great novelist and the eye for detail of a poet, Portia makes transparent as never before the behaviors and emotions of someone living with an eating disorder."


My Two Cents:

"Unbearable Lightness" is a memoir by the actress Portia de Rossi, well known for her roles on "Arrested Development" (one of my personal favorites!) and "Ally McBeal." It chronicles her struggle with anorexia and how she finally got help. While it was hard to read sometimes because the subject matter was so difficult, I appreciated how honest and real this memoir is!

Having known a lot of people that have struggled with eating disorders, I think books like this are terribly important. Hollywood actresses are supposed to be thin and lithe but they are never supposed to cop to the lengths they go through to get to that picture-perfect image. Portia de Rossi is gorgeous but got pressure throughout the book to look a certain way and to lose more weight. Having struggled with tendencies like that throughout her life, she quickly spirals out of control. She is honest throughout the book, even when her behavior gets frightening. The chapter where she is diagnosed with anorexia (and a host of other maladies all at one time - side effects from the eating disorder) is so effective!

I felt so bad for her throughout the book. I wanted to hug her and tell her she's beautiful and hoped that eventually she'd see that herself. If you have followed de Rossi's career and life, you know this story has a happy ending but as the book shows, de Rossi went through sooooo much to get to the point she's at now. This was a great memoir!


 

Thursday, December 6, 2018

Review: Owls are good at keeping secrets: an unusual alphabet by Sara O'Leary

Title: Owls are good at keeping secrets: an unusual alphabet
Author: Sara O'Leary
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: Random House Books for Young Readers
Publish Date: December 4, 2018
Source: Publisher



What's the Story?:

From Goodreads.com: "Did you know that chipmunks love to stay up past their bedtime? Or that dragons cry at happy endings? I bet you’d never have guessed that iguanas sometimes get homesick at sleepovers.

Sara O’Leary pulls back the curtain on the animal world and gives us an absolutely charming little one-line “fact” about one animal for each letter of the alphabet. Kids will love to see their own quirks reflected in these adorably rendered creatures, and perhaps will be comforted to know that—just like them—narwhals can be perfectly happy all on their own and quail also get tired of being told to be quiet."

My Two Cents:

"Owls are Good at Keeping Secrets" is an adorable book, perfect for kids who are learning their letters and spelling. My girls are three so we spend a lot of time on recognizing letters and talking about what words start with which letters. This book is filled with funny phrases that had my girls laughing. I love books that are a good blend of fun and learning and this is definitely one of those!

I also have to mention the art in the book. The illustrations are gorgeous with adorable animals and nice vivid colors. My girls spent a lot of time looking at the pictures!

This was a very enjoyable book!



Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Review: The Traitor's Wife: The Woman Behind Benedict Arnold and the Plan to Betray America by Allison Pataki

Title: The Traitor's Wife: The Woman Behind Benedict Arnold and the Plan to Betray America
Author: Allison Pataki
Format: Paperback
Publisher: Howard Books
Publish Date: January 1, 2014
Source: Owned



What's the Story?:

From Goodreads.com: "Socialite Peggy Shippen is half Benedict Arnold's age when she seduces the war hero during his stint as military commander of Philadelphia. Blinded by his young bride's beauty and wit, Arnold does not realize that she harbors a secret: loyalty to the British. Nor does he know that she hides a past romance with the handsome British spy John Andre. Peggy watches as her husband, crippled from battle wounds and in debt from years of service to the colonies, grows ever more disillusioned with his hero, Washington, and the American cause. Together with her former love and her disaffected husband, Peggy hatches the plot to deliver West Point to the British and, in exchange, win fame and fortune for herself and Arnold."

My Two Cents:

"The Traitor's Wife" is the story of Clara, a maid to Peggy Shippen, who becomes Peggy Arnold, wife of Benedict Arnold, quite possibly the United States' greatest traitor. I hardly knew anything about Peggy Arnold and was intrigued about reading about what the wife of such an infamous man was like. Turns out, while she's fascinating, she is one of the "bad guys," too.

Peggy is pretty terrible but she's a character that you love to hate and this makes the book really entertaining. When we first meet her, Peggy isn't worried about the American Revolution. She really doesn't care about it but just hopes that it doesn't ruin all of the parties that she wants to go to. She's obsessed with minor things like the latest fashions and what handsome man she is going to sidle up to next. It was amazing how little she cared about the world around her, which makes it easy to see why she was so easily swayed to help Benedict do what he did.

The writing of the book was okay. I liked how it was written and I liked how the author foreshadowed the traitorous behavior to come later on in the book. I did have a bit of an issue with Clara, Peggy's maid. I understand the choice to tell the story through the eyes of Clara instead of perhaps the eyes of Peggy or Benedict. Clara is an innocuous character. She's nice enough but is a little bit flat throughout the book, which made it difficult to connect to her and care about her story outside of how it related to the Arnolds. She feels very much like only a conduit to telling the story rather than a stand alone character.

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Review: American Wolf by Nate Blakeslee

Title: American Wolf
Author: Nate Blakeslee
Format: Ebook
Publisher: Crown
Publish Date: October 17, 2017
Source: Owned



What's the Story?:

From Goodreads.com: "Before men ruled the earth, there were wolves. Once abundant in North America, these majestic creatures were hunted to near extinction in the lower 48 states by the 1920s. But in recent decades, conservationists have brought wolves back to the Rockies, igniting a battle over the very soul of the West."

My Two Cents:

"American Wolf" is the history of the removal and eventual reintroduction of the wolf from Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming and Montana. Yellowstone has the remarkable denotation of being one of my favorite places that I have ever been. It is a vast wilderness with acres and acres of untouched land. It has plains and mountains, hot springs and geysers. It is a beautiful place filled with animals.

Although Yellowstone is a park, national parks are not cut off from the surrounding land and so those that live and work close to the park must coexist with the park. As this book shows, that can often be a tall order. Almost immediately after the park was given its designation as a national park, those that lived around it began to see the effects both good and bad of this protective status. One effect came from the conservation of wolves. Wolves are an important part of Yellowstone's ecosystem but also present a problem, particularly one having to do with the killing and maiming of livestock on farms outside the park.

This book details the different points of view of those that love the wolves and believe they have a place in Yellowstone and those that are utterly frustrated with the park's porous borders that allow wolves to roam their land and harm their livelihoods. The book follows several people in great detail in order to illustrate this great divide.

The author does a good job of showing the various sides of the argument. This is a man vs. nature story and a man trying to coexist with nature story. It was fascinating and well-written. I know this issue is one that I will be mulling over for a long time.

Monday, December 3, 2018

Review: Too Fat, Too Slutty, Too Loud: The Rise and Reign of the Unruly Woman by Anne Helen Petersen

Title: Too Fat, Too Slutty, Too Loud: The Rise and Reign of the Unruly Woman
Author: Anne Helen Petersen
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: Plume Books
Publish Date: June 20, 2017
Source: Library



What's the Story?:

From Goodreads.com: "You know the type: the woman who won't shut up, who's too brazen, too opinionated--too much. It's not that she's an outcast (she might even be your friend or your wife, or your mother) so much as she's a social variable. Sometimes, she's the life of the party; others, she's the center of gossip. She's the unruly woman, and she's one of the most provocative, powerful forms of womanhood today.

There have been unruly women for as long as there have been boundaries of what constitutes acceptable "feminine" behavior, but there's evidence that she's on the rise--more visible and less easily dismissed--than ever before. In Too Fat, Too Slutty, Too Loud, Anne Helen Petersen uses the lens of "unruliness" to explore the ascension of eleven contemporary powerhouses: Serena Williams, Melissa McCarthy, Abbi Jacobson, Ilana Glazer, Nicki Minaj, Kim Kardashian, Hillary Clinton, Caitlyn Jenner, Jennifer Weiner, and Lena Dunham."


My Two Cents:

"Too Fat, Too Slutty, Too Loud" is a book about famous women that have been criticized as being too "something." And what woman hasn't been told that they are too "something" and that they should be more this way or that way? Unfortunately, it seems to be our lots in life as women and even if you fit some sort of publicly condoned model of woman, people are still going to find something to criticize about you.

In this book, the author dedicates each chapter to a woman in the public eye and what they have been often criticized of being too much of. This book explores how the public (and this is so not limited to men, women are just as guilty of these unfair criticisms too as this book points out) tears people in the public eye down with constant criticisms. These criticisms almost take on a life of their own (Hillary Clinton being too shrill, Nicki Minaj being too slutty, Kim Kardashian being too pregnant).

I loved that this book brought together two things that I love that often seem out of sync with each other. I love celebrity gossip. It's so silly but I still love whiling away time in the bath with the latest People Magazine or US. I am also super interested in the more academic side of things like messaging, marketing, and feminism. This book is such a perfect combination of both interests. By being a woman, it seems that you invite criticism. By being a woman in the spotlight, you invite that about 100 fold. As the author points out, there is so much hidden messaging in these criticisms and hidden messaging.

This is a book that I'm going to be thinking about for a long time and want to take further. Now that we know these things are here, what do we do with them (oh, and you know that we knew these things existed before this book but it does put a nice bow on it)? How do we make things better?


 

Friday, November 30, 2018

Review: Coming Up for Air by Miranda Kenneally

Title: Coming Up for Air
Author: Miranda Kenneally 
Format: Paperback
Publisher: Sourcebooks
Publish Date: July 4, 2017
Source: Library



What's the Story?:

From Goodreads.com: "All of Maggie’s focus and free time is spent swimming. She’s not only striving to earn scholarships—she’s training to qualify for the Olympics. It helps that her best friend, Levi, is also on the team and cheers her on. But Levi’s already earned an Olympic tryout, so Maggie feels even more pressure to succeed. And it’s not until Maggie’s away on a college visit that she realizes how much of the “typical” high school experience she’s missed by being in the pool.

Not one to shy away from a challenge, Maggie decides to squeeze the most out of her senior year. First up? Making out with a guy. And Levi could be the perfect candidate. After all, they already spend a lot of time together. But as Maggie slowly starts to uncover new feelings for Levi, how much is she willing to sacrifice in the water to win at love?"

My Two Cents:

Maggie eat, breathes, and dreams of swimming. She doesn't do much else because she doesn't have time. Her friends are mostly other swimmers, including her very best friend, Levi. Maggie suddenly finds herself attracted to Levi but isn't sure that she wants to mess up their relationship or take away from practicing for a spot on the Olympic team. 

It took me awhile to warm up to Maggie. She is obsessed with learning to "hook-up" and it felt a little bit forced. She at first seems to choose Levi just because he is the closest person around but eventually they seem to get a little closer and their relationship begins to fill a little more filled out, if you will. Their relationship becomes something that felt a little more real and caring, it just takes a bit to get there.

I loved the swimming aspect of the book. Although I was never gunning for the Olympics, I did swim in high school and I thought that the book captured the camaraderie and almost family-like atmosphere of swim teams. During swim season, you are with your team all the time. My school didn't actually have a pool so we'd drive to practice together. You hang out with each other before, during, and after practice and then there is the whole idea of "swimcest," which is a real phenomenon! Maggie is torn between trying to forge ahead with things outside of swimming while always being pulled back to her passion.  

Overall, this was a good first experience with the Hundred Oaks series.


Thursday, November 29, 2018

Review: What Unites Us: Reflections on Patriotism by Dan Rather and Elliot Kirschner

Title: What Unites Us: Reflections on Patriotism
Authors: Dan Rather and Elliot Kirschner
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: Algonquin Books
Publish Date: November 7, 2017
Source: Library



What's the Story?:

"At a moment of crisis over our national identity, venerated journalist Dan Rather has emerged as a voice of reason and integrity, reflecting on—and writing passionately about—what it means to be an American. Now, with this collection of original essays, he reminds us of the principles upon which the United States was founded. Looking at the freedoms that define us, from the vote to the press; the values that have transformed us, from empathy to inclusion to service; the institutions that sustain us, such as public education; and the traits that helped form our young country, such as the audacity to take on daunting challenges in science and medicine, Rather brings to bear his decades of experience on the frontlines of the world’s biggest stories. As a living witness to historical change, he offers up an intimate view of history, tracing where we have been in order to help us chart a way forward and heal our bitter divisions."

My Two Cents:

If you're feeling a little down and out by everything that is going on in our world right now, particularly in the United States, and you want a little inspiration, this is a great book for you. I have always liked Dan Rather. He seems like very much an old-school newsman who deals in facts and analysis while providing comfort in difficult times. I have loved following his News and Guts page on Facebook so I was excited to read this book and I was not disappointed!


Dan Rather looks at our American patriotism from many different angles. Where did we come from? What is important to us? What do we take pride in? Where are we striving for more? His mini-essays in this book are incredibly thought-provoking and are meant to be meditated on. This is definitely not a book that you should rush through - there is so much to think about here! I love books that bring up strong emotions for me and this book definitely did that!


Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Review: My Not So Perfect Life by Sophie Kinsella

Title: My Not So Perfect Life
Author: Sophie Kinsella 
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: Bantam Press
Publish Date: February 7, 2017
Source: Library



What's the Story?:

From Goodreads.com: "Everywhere Katie Brenner looks, someone else is living the life she longs for, particularly her boss, Demeter Farlowe. Demeter is brilliant and creative, lives with her perfect family in a posh townhouse, and wears the coolest clothes. Katie's life, meanwhile, is a daily struggle--from her dismal rental to her oddball flatmates to the tense office politics she's trying to negotiate. No wonder Katie takes refuge in not-quite-true Instagram posts, especially as she's desperate to make her dad proud.

Then, just as she's finding her feet--not to mention a possible new romance--the worst happens. Demeter fires Katie. Shattered but determined to stay positive, Katie retreats to her family's farm in Somerset to help them set up a vacation business. London has never seemed so far away--until Demeter unexpectedly turns up as a guest. Secrets are spilled and relationships rejiggered, and as the stakes for Katie's future get higher, she must question her own assumptions about what makes for a truly meaningful life."

My Two Cents:

"My Not So Perfect Life" is the story of Katie, whose life is falling apart even if she keeps making things look really, really good on her Instagram account. When she gets let go from her job in London, she ends up back at home in the countryside where she helps her parents set up a place for city folks to go glamping. When her old boss shows up and has no idea who she is, Katie decides to have a little fun and get some revenge. 

We all know that social media can be deceptive. Katie sees all of her friends' feeds and is incredibly jealous of what they have. She is incredibly jealous of her ex-boss who seems to have the perfect life and little regard for Katie's talent and ideas even when they are really good. This is a book about how looks can be deceiving! I really liked this story. Sophie Kinsella is always one of my go-to writers when I want something fun, light, with a lot of heart. This book definitely fit the bill.

I loved the journey of self-discovery that Katie goes through in the book. I know that social media can be deceiving but it can be so hard not to get sucked into endless comparisons with what other people are doing. Katie realizes eventually that sometimes showing a little more reality is more endearing and helpful than showing the picture perfect all the time. This is a good lesson for us all!


Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Review: Mrs. Hemingway by Naomi Wood

Title: Mrs. Hemingway
Author: Naomi Wood
Format: Paperback
Publisher: Penguin Books
Publish Date: May 2014
Source: Owned



What's the Story?:

From Goodreads.com: "Paula McLain's New York Times bestselling novel piqued readers' interest about Ernest Hemingway's romantic life. But Hadley was only one of four women married, in turn, to the legendary writer. Just as T.C. Boyle's bestseller The Women completed the picture begun by Nancy Horan's Loving Frank, Naomi Wood's Mrs. Hemingway tells the story of how it was to love, and be loved by, the most famous and dashing writer of his generation. Hadley, Pauline, Martha and Mary: each Mrs. Hemingway thought their love would last forever; each one was wrong.

Told in four parts and based on real love letters and telegrams, Mrs. Hemingway reveals the explosive love triangles that wrecked each of Hemingway's marriages. Spanning 1920s bohemian Paris through 1960s Cold War America, populated with members of the fabled "Lost Generation," Mrs. Heminway is a riveting tale of passion, love, and heartbreak."


My Two Cents:

"Mrs. Hemingway" is the story of the four wives of Ernest Hemingway: Hadley, Fife, Martha, and Mary. All four of these women were very different but inextricably linked because of their husband. This story focuses on the beginning and the end (mostly the end) of each of their relationships with Ernest. I am fascinated by Hemingway and his life so this was the initial draw for me.

It is so interesting that the author chooses to focus mostly on the ends of the relationships but it works really well. Ernest Hemingway is a man who loved passionately and seemed to be drawn to the flame of the butterflies you feel when you first fall in love. He loved each of these women for different reasons but his relationship chasing always seemed to come down to him not being able to be by himself, quite the juxtaposition from the tough guy persona that he seemed to like to show off in all other aspects of his life as a novelist, journalist, and soldier and all of the other roles that he played throughout his life.

Like I said, I am fascinated by Hemingway so I have read a lot about him and his family. Those that don't know about him may have a little trouble getting into this book because of how it jumps in to the middle of his relationships before going very quickly to the end. '

The writing was good. I liked the detail that the author put in the book. I also really liked the experimental take on talking about Hemingway from the women's points of views at the end of each tumultuous relationship. This really made for an interesting read!


 

Monday, November 26, 2018

Review: How to Be Alone: If You Want To, and Even If You Don't by Lane Moore

Title: How to Be Alone: If You Want To, and Even If You Don't
Author: Lane Moore
Format: ARC
Publisher: Atria Books
Publish Date: November 6, 2018
Source: Publisher



What's the Story?:

From Goodreads.com: "Lane Moore is a rare performer who is as impressive onstage—whether hosting her iconic show Tinder Live or being the enigmatic front woman of It Was Romance—as she is on the page, as both a former writer for The Onion and an award-winning sex and relationships editor for Cosmopolitan. But her story has had its obstacles, including being her own parent, living in her car as a teenager, and moving to New York City to pursue her dreams. Through it all, she looked to movies, TV, and music as the family and support systems she never had.

From spending the holidays alone to having better “stranger luck” than with those closest to her to feeling like the last hopeless romantic on earth, Lane reveals her powerful and entertaining journey in all its candor, anxiety, and ultimate acceptance—with humor always her bolstering force and greatest gift."


My Two Cents:

"How to be Alone" is a memoir by Lane Moore, most well known as an advice columnist or as the host of "Tinder Live." This memoir is filled with different stories from Moore's life that run the gamut of emotions, from heart-wrenching to hilarious. I didn't know what to expect from this book but was happy that I picked it up!

The book opens with a particularly sad story about how Lane Moore feels terribly alone to the point where she has no idea who to put down for an emergency contact. She feels like she is still trying to recover from her childhood as an adult, which broke my heart. It was interesting to me that she led off with this story. It was effective in getting me to read on but I did have to wonder how dark the book was going to be because of the story. It could be a pretty difficult read for some.

Moore also tells some pretty funny stories that had me laughing out loud and cheering her on. I do have to admit that the cover makes this book look very different than what it is, which was a little interesting to me. Overall, this book had a great way of leading me through all sorts of emotions!


 

Thursday, November 22, 2018

Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving, friends! May your day be filled with loved ones, warm thoughts, yummy food, and of course, books!


Wednesday, November 21, 2018

HFVBT Review: Imperial Passions: The Porta Aurea by Eileen Stephenson

Title: Imperial Passions: The Porta Aurea
Author: Eileen Stephenson
Format: Paperback
Publisher: Eileen Iciek
Publish Date: April 24, 2018
Source: HFVBT



What's the Story?:

From Goodreads.com: "At the center of Byzantine society, fifteen-year old orphaned Anna Dalassena lives with her grandparents among the most powerful men and women in Constantinople. But the cutthroat politics of the Great Palace sends the family into exile in a distant corner of the empire. Her bleak situation finally turns promising after meeting a handsome young soldier, John Comnenus, and his brother Isaac, before they are finally permitted to return home.

The vicious power struggles, uprisings, and betrayals at the highest levels of the empire push Anna and John unwillingly into its center as they struggle to deal with their own tragedies. When rebellion puts her life and those of everyone she loves at risk, is the reward-- a throne for her family--too big a gamble?"

My Two Cents:

"Imperial Passions: The Porta Aurea" is the story of Anna. Although when the book opens, Anna is an orphan, her star rises throughout the book. Taking place in the 11th century Byzantine Empire, this book is full of palace intrigue and interesting characters. Anna is a great character to follow through all of the difficulties that her family faces. I really enjoyed this book!

Anna and the other secondary characters were great. I loved seeing how things shifted for Anna and her family throughout the book. We get to see the triumphs and the tragedies. I loved following Anna. Although on the surface, particularly in the beginning of the book, it doesn't seem like Anna has much of a choice rather than following wherever the wind might take her but we soon see that she understands her power well and is able to use it in such a way to move through the world successfully. 

I loved all of the drama of the book. Anna and her family are intrinsically connected to the leaders and politics of the day and this really drives the story line throughout the book. Although this is quite a large book, reading about the intricate power struggles of the Byzantine Empire kept me interested and wanting to see how things turned out for some key characters.

This was a fascinating book! I don't know much about the Byzantine Empire during this time period and I loved the way that Stephenson used historical detail to create a very vivid setting, which I loved. I was impressed with how much historical detail the author was able to pack in without the book feeling like a laundry list of what Anna's world was like. This is a great book with fantastic detail! What a treat for historical fiction lovers!


Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Review: New Erotica for Feminists by Caitlin Kunkel, Brooke Preston, Fiona Taylor, and Carrie Wittmer

Title: New Erotica for Feminists
Authors: Caitlin Kunkel, Brooke Preston, Fiona Taylor, and Carrie Wittmer
Format: Paperback
Publisher: Plume
Publish Date: November 13, 2018
Source: Publisher



What's the Story?:

From Goodreads.com: "Imagine a world where erotica was written by feminists: Their daydreams include equal pay, a gender-balanced Congress, and Tom Hardy arriving at their doorstep to deliver a fresh case of LaCroix every week.

Both light-hearted and empowering, New Erotica for Feminists is a sly, satirical take on all the things that turn feminists on. From a retelling of Adam and Eve to tales of respectful Tinder dates, New Erotica for Feminists answers the question of “What do women really want?” with stories of power, equality, and an immortal Ruth Bader Ginsburg."


My Two Cents:

"New Erotica for Feminists" is a hilarious collection of stories and vignettes. It's a really quick read but it's very funny. It's broken into several different topical sections. My favorites were the literary and parenting sections. I know this is a book that I will go back to and plan on getting for a few of my friends as a stocking stuffer this year. It's a lot of fun!

 

Monday, November 19, 2018

Review: Raven Dock by Sara Caldwell

Title: Raven Dock
Author: Sara Caldwell
Format: Paperback
Publisher: White Bird Publications
Publish Date: October 2, 2018
Source: Author



What's the Story?:

From Goodreads.com: "Seventeen-year-old Harper Duncan never fit in anywhere her family moved…and they moved a lot. But after her parents and brother die in a tragic accident, she finds out she’s adopted, and her birth mother lives in a remote retreat called Raven Dock. Harper ventures north and discovers a dark family secret: her birth mother is a witch. And she’s one too. As Harper Learns about her own hidden powers, will she choose to embrace her chilling heritage, or return to the safety of the ordinary world?"

My Two Cents:

"Raven Dock" is the story of Harper, a teenager who loses her family in a tragic accident. Harper thinks that she is all alone until her mysterious aunt reenters her life. Harper goes to live at remote Raven Dock where things are not always what they seem. Harper will uncover a lot of secrets of her own origins! This book is a promising start to a planned series but I wanted a little more detail.

The story line of this book is intriguing. I always like a good fish-out-of-water story and you definitely get that with Harper. She has absolutely no idea that her birth mother was a witch and that she may have powers herself. She didn't know about her aunt and had always thought that it was her immediate family that she had in the world. I also liked Raven Dock itself, a super mysterious place that added a good dose of atmosphere to the book.

In many ways, this book felt like an introduction and sort of an appetizer to a much larger story. It is a very short book and so I felt like there could have been room for more detail and more exploration of Harper's background and origin. I wanted a little more detail to go on. There are a lot of set ups for really interesting backstories into the witches and what it means for Harper that she is a descendant of witches. I wanted to know more about the legends behind it. It will be interesting to see where the story goes from here!


 

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Review: Wherever You Are: A Memoir of Love, Marriage, and Brain Injury by Cynthia Lim

Title: Wherever You Are: A Memoir of Love, Marriage, and Brain Injury
Author: Cynthia Lim
Format: Paperback
Publisher: Camel Press
Publish Date: September 1, 2018
Source: Publisher



What's the Story?:

From Goodreads.com: "Cynthia Lim thought she had the perfect life: a husband who was a successful attorney, a fulfilling career in education, two teenage sons in private school, and a home in Los Angeles rich in books, music, and art. Then in 2003, her husband Perry suffers a cardiac arrest and brain injury, lingering in a coma for ten days before slowly awakening. A different person emerges, one who has lost his short-term memory and is fully dependent on others. Married for twenty years, she doesn't know how much of his former self will return as she fights for the treatment and care he needs.

She struggles with caregiving and working full-time while finding connection with the man she once knew and loved, whose brain will never again function as it did before. While wrestling with the urge to leave him in an institution and walk away, she discovers the strength and resolve that will allow her to build a new life. Wherever You Are is the story of a marriage after a spouse is forever changed by a catastrophic event. It is a story of redefining life with disability and discovering the real truth of love and marriage."

My Two Cents:

In "Wherever You Are," Cynthia Lim and her husband seem to lead a pretty good life. When a sudden health situation leaves her husband with a brain injury where one of the major symptoms severe short term memory loss, Lim discovers her own resilience and strength to come to terms with her and her husband's "new normal." This is a powerful memoir!

This memoir goes through everything that Cynthia and Perry, her husband, go through. Everything is covered from what happened to Perry to Cynthia having to navigate a new life and figure out how best she can care for her beloved husband. Caretaking is a very difficult job under any circumstances but Lim captures how difficult it is to be a caretaker for someone who once was self-sufficient. Lim also has to learn to be a partner to someone with whom she once had a very equal partnership with but that is no longer possible.

The writing is good. This is a hard subject and I did find myself wanting more detail on thoughts and feelings happening throughout the events in the book rather than just what was happening. This is a heart-wrenching story and I think it will be helpful to so many to have such a great example of strength!


Wednesday, November 14, 2018

HFVBT Interview: Carrie Callaghan, Author of "A Light of Her Own"

I am thrilled to welcome Carrie Callaghan, author of "A Light of Her Own" here to A Bookish Affair!

What inspired you to write "A Light of Her Own?"

Judith’s self-portrait. My writing is just an excuse for me to research the heck out of something, and when I first saw her paintings in 2009, on the occasion of her 400th birthday, I was smitten. I needed to learn about this woman who painted with such passion, and how she succeeded at a time I thought of as being hostile to women. I learned, in the course of my research, that gender roles were a lot more complicated than I had assumed.

What was your favorite scene in the book to write?

I love the moment when Judith applies for membership in the Guild. Crowd scenes are a major challenge – figuring out how to help the reader keep track of a bunch of new faces is hard. But I also love the swirl of political ambition, hostility, and support that surrounds Judith as she’s putting herself out there for this most terrifying moment. And of course, I love the painting that she selects as her application piece. (When I wrote that scene, I had to guess which painting she used. Later, I spoke to a leading scholar who told me that recent scholarship indicated that she had indeed used the painting I had guessed!)

Who is your favorite character in this book and why?

I love Judith for her dedication and her spirit, but I am probably most like Maria, with her deep emotions and propensity toward self-doubt. I’m going to cheat a little here and say my favorite character is their friendship – the complicated love, anger, and support that arise between them.

What was the strangest/ most interesting thing you found in your research?


The small details of daily life four hundred years before our times are, of course, drastically different from our own electrified, internet-bound, modern lives. Even though I knew that their lives would have a different rhythm than ours, I was still surprised by some of the small things I learned in my research. How going out after dark was virtually impossible, and anyone out after a certain time was required to have a lantern. And that lantern didn’t have glass panes, like we might imagine, but tin walls with punctures to let the light shine through. Or how door decorations advertised both new births and stillbirths.


If you could bring three people, fictional or non-fictional, with you to a deserted island, who would you bring and why?


If I were a braver person than I am, I’d swipe three modern-day villains away from their current
misdeeds and drop them onto my island, where their evil could be constrained. But more likely, in
the selfish hopes of some good conversation and an eventual rescue, I’d bring the poet Sappho
(assuming I can understand her ancient Greek) to tell me what life was life two thousand years ago,
Langston Hughes to compare poetry with Sappho, and Falkor (the dragon from The Neverending
Story) to fly us away. What do you mean Falkor’s not a person? Oh, fine. Svanhild from Linnea
Hartsuyker’s The Sea Queen, to help us build a ship, sail away, and fight any pirates who get in our
path.

(Note from Meg: Falkor TOTALLY counts!!!)

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

HFVBT Review: A Light of Her Own by Carrie Callaghan

Title: A Light of Her Own
Author: Carrie Callaghan 
Format: ARC
Publisher: Amberjack Publishing
Publish Date: November 13, 2018
Source: HFVBT



What's the Story?:

From Goodreads.com: "In Holland 1633, a woman’s ambition has no place.

Judith is a painter, dodging the law and whispers of murder to become the first woman admitted to the prestigious Haarlem artist’s guild. Maria is a Catholic in a country where the faith is banned, hoping to absolve her sins by recovering a lost saint’s relic.

Both women’s destinies will be shaped by their ambitions, running counter to the city’s most powerful men, whose own plans spell disaster. A vivid portrait of a remarkable artist, A Light of Her Own is a richly-woven story of grit against the backdrop of Rembrandts and repressive religious rule."


My Two Cents:

In "A Light of Her Own," it's 1633 and Judith Leyster dreams of being admitted to the Haarlem artist's guild. Although this would be quite a feat for a woman, Judith isn't fazed. She is secure enough in her skill that she believes she is worthy of such an honor and will do what she must to realize this dream. Being able to get into the guild would have been an incredible boon for any artist, let alone a woman artist. I loved getting to know Judith on her journey through this book!

I have always liked Judith Leyster's self portrait, which hangs in the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. Admittedly, the Dutch masters are not my favorite (I may struck with lightning with that disclosure, no?). So many of the portraits while realistic seem sort of dark and perhaps a bit drab to me. Leyster's self-portrait has a spark that makes the painting of her painting really interesting to me. She has a gleam in her eye and I thought that the author did a good job of capturing that light and that drive that shines through Leyster's paintings, particularly her self-portrait.

This book has so much going for it. You all know that I love historical fiction but I particularly love historical fiction when it includes art. I love the stories behind all of the paintings we know and love. I loved seeing Judith's story. She has to be very strategic throughout the book in order to follow her dreams in a time where women were supposed to be in the home. There is a great feminist theme present here, which is very much down my alley. I loved following her journey!

Another thing that I really liked in this book was the friendship between Judith and Maria. Both women are struggling with different problems but they are able to come together and support each other. This book had a very nice rumination on the importance of friendship. I thought the author did a good job of capturing the thoughts and feelings of both women.

Overall, this was a good book and a great debut! It will be such a treat for my fellow historical fiction lovers.


 
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