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Friday, October 11, 2019

Review: Dinosnores by Sandra Boynton

Title: Dinosnores
Author: Sandra Boynton
Format: Board Book
Publisher: Workman Publishing Company
Publish Date: September 3, 2019
Source: PR

What's the Story?:

From "'Honk SHOOOOOO! Honk SHOOOOOO! . . .'     

The snoring goes on, on and on through the night. They never stop snoring till the first morning light.

Ah, all those dinosaurs look so cute in their pajamas. See them yawn and stretch and brush their teeth. Soon they’ll be sound asleep, and . . . OH NO! SNORING!!!

Little kids love big dinosaurs. They also love the sublime silliness of Sandra Boynton books. So what better way to wind down at the end of the day than with DINOSNORES, a rhyming and rhythmic ritual of getting ready for bed—featuring a pile of loudly snoozing dinos."

My Two Cents:

"Dinosnores" is the latest book by beloved writer of bedtime books, Sandra Boynton! We love her books in my house. My four year olds love the word and we especially liked imitating all of the snoring the dinosaurs do throughout the book. Bedtime is often a good time for us to have one last giggle before we slip off to dreamland and this book definitely is a good fit for that! This short book is a welcome addition to our kiddos' library.

As always, Ms. Boynton's illustrations are fantastic! They are super bright and super cute! My girls are dino obsessed right now and they loved the pictures of the very noisy but still downright cuddly dinos as they snored on through the night. The words are simple and fun and my girls loved repeating the story to me. This was a great book that I know we are going to be revisiting a lot!


Thursday, October 10, 2019

Review: Barbie Forever: Her Inspiration, History, and Legacy by Robin Gerber

Title: Barbie Forever: Her Inspiration, History, and Legacy
Author: Robin Gerber
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: Epic Ink
Publish Date: September 30, 2019
Source: PR

What's the Story?:

From "Barbie Forever: Her Inspiration, History, and Legacy presents a detailed, full-color portrait of this beloved doll through all-new interviews, original sketches, vintage photos, advertisements, a foldout timeline, and much more. Explore how the doll came to be, what it takes to create one of her many looks, and how her legacy continues to influence the world.

Since her debut in 1959, Barbie has been breaking boundaries and highlighting major moments in art, fashion, and culture. She has been an interpreter of taste and style in every historic period she has lived through and has reflected female empowerment through the more than 200 careers she has embodied. Today, an international icon, Barbie continues to spark imaginations and influence conversations around the world.

Barbie Forever is a vibrant celebration for the "Barbie Girl" in all of us."

My Two Cents:

"Barbie Forever" is a positive look back at one of the most iconic toys around: Barbie. Starting from her beginning in the middle of the 20th century, Barbie has been the both the subject of praise and scrutiny. I was definitely a Barbie girl (in a Barbie world) growing up and so this toy has a very special place in my heart and I was interested to get a better look at the history through this book!

As I mentioned before, this is a very positive look back at Barbie's origins and her history. The toy faced much scrutiny for offering unrealistic body types and sometimes problematic story lines. This book doesn't really mention that and focuses on the highlights of Barbie's history. And to Mattel's credit (Mattel is Barbie's manufacturer), the brand has made great strides recently in being more inclusive and honoring the diversity of the real world (it's never too late). I appreciated seeing how the brand had changed throughout time. Barbie goes from being a fashion doll to show off pretty clothes to something more like what she was for me growing up: a tool for my imagination. The book captures that magic!

The book is also beautiful! It has a ton of full color pictures that celebrate both where Barbie has been and where she could potentially be going. This was such a great walk down memory lane for me. My sisters and I had an EPIC collection of Barbies that we loved to play with and we definitely had so many of the Barbies that appeared in the book.

With the holidays being just around the corner, this book would be a perfect gift for those that grew up with Barbie like I did!


Friday, October 4, 2019

Reading Challenge Update!

As a reminder, I am aiming to read a book from or set in each country the Department of State recognizes, which is 195 countries!
This was my best month yet!
I read books from this many countries in September:
You can check out my progress on my map or see a list of where and what I'm reading here.

I have read 87 books for this challenge so far.

Take a look at my list! What else should I be reading?

Monday, September 30, 2019

Review: Some Stories: Lessons from the Edge of Business and Sport by Yvon Chouinard

Title: Some Stories: Lessons from the Edge of Business and Sport
Author: Yvon Chouinard
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: Patagonia
Publish Date: April 16, 2019
Source: PR

What's the Story?: 

Synopsis: "For nearly 80 years, Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard has followed his own advice, pursuing outdoor adventures, business excellence and environmental activism with equal fervor. Since 1950, he has captured the lessons and revelations he’s learned in articles and books, personal letters and poetry, introductions and eulogies."

My Two Cents:

In "Some Stories: Lessons from the Edge of Business and Sport," you get a front row seat with Patagonia-founder Yvon Chouinard. Not only did he start a very successful outdoor gear company, he also believes in the power of nature and the need to protect it for future generations to come. Patagonia as a company has been making waves recently for some of the work that it is doing on topics such as conservation and climate change. 

I was drawn to this book because I have really liked following Patagonia's shifts as a company committed to doing better. I really didn't know much about Yvon Chouniard before reading this book and while a flat-out biography of him would have been interesting, it was really great to get to know him through his own words and specifically reading his words on things he really cared about. This is a man that has a very good sense of himself and what he wants to strive towards. 

The book contains all sorts of stories that Chouniard wants to tell from both his personal adventures and long career. There are essays on wonderful places and the experiences he had there (my to-travel list is so much longer now). There are ruminations on the problems that plague our natural world and seem insurmountable. There are tributes to those that Chouniard loved and lost. One of my favorite essays in the book is a letter that he writes to his daughter as she goes off to school and to make her own way in the world. The essays throughout the book are passionate and often moving. In addition to some lovely odes to this beautiful world we live in, there is also some pretty amazing photography.

This book made me want to go take a long, beautiful walk somewhere with mountains, trees, lakes, and streams and just think about this wonderful place we call home. This book would be a lovely gift for anyone who loves the great outdoors!

Friday, September 27, 2019

TLC Book Tours: No Judgements by Meg Cabot

Title: No Judgements
Author: Meg Cabot
Format: ARC
Publisher: William Morrow
Publish Date: September 24, 2019
Source: TLC Book Tours and HarperCollins

What's the Story?:

From "When a massive hurricane severs all power and cell service to Little Bridge Island—as well as its connection to the mainland—twenty-five-year-old Bree Beckham isn’t worried . . . at first. She’s already escaped one storm—her emotionally abusive ex—so a hurricane seems like it will be a piece of cake.

But animal-loving Bree does become alarmed when she realizes how many islanders have been cut off from their beloved pets. Now it’s up to her to save as many of Little Bridge’s cats and dogs as she can . . . but to do so, she’s going to need help—help she has no choice but to accept from her boss’s sexy nephew, Drew Hartwell, the Mermaid Café’s most notorious heartbreaker.

But when Bree starts falling for Drew, just as Little Bridge’s power is restored and her penitent ex shows up, she has to ask herself if her island fling was only a result of the stormy weather, or if it could last during clear skies too."

My Two Cents: 

In "No Judgements," Bree just wants to hide from her old life. A small island in the Florida Keys during a hurricane seems like a good place to do that, no? Bree is carving out a new life: she has a small apartment and a great roommate, she is working at the cafe in town for a great owner, and she is desperately trying to recover to a bad relationship so when the cafe owner's nephew walks into her life, she is definitely trying to resist his charms. Will she succeed? Will the hurricane knock her off her feet?

This is a satisfying, solid, yet predictable entrance to a brand new series by author Meg Cabot! I have loved so many of Meg Cabot's books and I especially love how they most definitely fall into the category of comfort reads. Nothing was shocking in this book and even some of the surprises in the book were not particularly surprising. That being said, sometimes you are just looking for a warm hug of a book, surprising or not, and the book definitely fits that bill.

This book introduces a brand new cast of characters for a planned series. I think this is one place where the book fell a little flat for me. I really felt for Bree and I really enjoyed the romance in the book. But aside from the main couple, we have a lot of characters who are simply introduced but not really fleshed out so I would love to see if that changes in the next installation of the Little Bridge series.

This was a solid start to a new series!


Thursday, September 26, 2019

HFVBT Review and Guest Post: The Queen of Warriors by Zenobia Neil

Title: The Queen of Warriors
Author: Zenobia Neil
Format: ARC
Publisher: Hypatia Books
Publish Date: September 19, 2019
Source: HFVBT

What's the Story?:

From "Alexandra of Sparta vowed her sword and her heart to the goddess Artemis. And the goddess blessed her. But no warrior lives at peace, and soon, Alexandra loses her title, her troops, and everyone she loves, including the man who holds her heart.

Cursed by a Babylonian witch, she is forced to return to a city she once conquered to make amends. There she is captured by the powerful Persian rebel, Artaxerxes. As his prisoner, she awaits judgment for her crimes. But Artaxerxes is not what he seems. With death approaching, Alexandra must face her violent past and discover the truth of her captor’s identity before it’s too late."

My Two Cents:

In "The Queen of Warriors," Alexandra of Sparta is a fierce warrior. Her heart belongs to no one beside herself. She believes deeply in her cause, no matter the tradeoffs, which is exactly why she finds herself in the situation she is in in the beginning of the book. She has been captured and her life is in danger but looks can be deceiving. I thoroughly enjoyed this fast-paced, exciting, sexy novel!

The characters are Alexandra of Sparta is very much a Xena the Warrior Princess kind of character. She is strong and she is driven. She is allowed to act like a man in many ways during a time where this was not common. She can fight with the best of them. She beds whomever she wants when she wants it. She is seriously empowered and so wonderful to read about. Artaxerxes is the man that captured the fierce Warrior Queen Alexandra. I don't want to give too much away but I really like how his story is explored and how he is changed by all of the various challenges that he faces. So good! 

This book was a great mix of historical fiction and erotic fiction. The love scenes are really great and sooooo very steamy. I loved how complicated the relationships (and therefore the love scenes) were throughout the book. Sex is used in so many different ways and it's a really interesting exploration. 

The writing is really good. This is the first book that I've read by this author but now I know I need to go back and read more by Zenobia Neil. I loved all of the historical fiction infused into the story! The detail gives a great sense of time and place. This book ends on a great cliffhanger and I have to know what happens! My only regret is that I have to wait until the next book!

Guest Post:

I am so very excited to welcome Zenobia Neil here to A Bookish Affair!

Bringing Long Dead Characters Who Never Existed to Life
Historical Fiction: Writing about Something You (Initially) Know Very Little About

When I first started writing The Queen of Warriors seven years ago, I knew very little about Hellenic Persia. My characters came to me fully formed, with desires and fears. I could clearly see my Persian main character, Artaxerxes, in leather trousers, and my Spartan woman warrior, Alexandra, wearing a leather dress like Xena: Warrior Princess, but I wasn't sure what language they communicated in. I had no idea what they ate or how they illuminated their dwellings. 
Writing a story that takes place thousands of years ago is challenging for several reasons. How can we even know what people thought and felt so long ago? There isn’t much recorded information, and the writings we do have are often lists of exchanges or contracts. There are a good amount of Hellenistic statues, coins, and vases. The visual images left from so long ago were very inspirational, taking into consideration that the heroic nudity portrayed in many ancient works of art was aesthetic and not representational. These images also gave me insight on their hairstyles—Alexander started the trend of Greek men going beardless, and he inspired the model of “heroic” hair (slightly long and wavy.) It tickles me to think that my Greek characters shaved and wore their hair in a style that was modern.
To discover what they ate, I consulted ancient cookbooks, but a lot of them focused on Roman cuisine. I turned to Xenophon and Herodotus, and biographies of Alexander the Great, but what really brought flavor to my story was reading Persian cookbooks—sour cherry rice with lamb and chilled cucumber-mint yogurt soup are a couple of my favorites. 
Early on in my research, my characters became more real when I read about grave goods, specifically, the jewelry ancient people were buried with. I love wearing jewelry, and something about that detail really gave my characters life.
 Alexandra has an ouroboros ring that her mother gave her. For Alexandra, jewelry isn’t something she wears to make her look pretty: it’s a connection to the past, a status symbol, and insurance. She always has a large amount of gold on her. Conversely, Artaxerxes was born rich and is willing to sell his gold armbands for scrolls.
Artaxerxes wears golden armbands capped with lynxes with ruby eyes, symbolic of his house. This jewelry fed my imagination, and I created a title for him based on it—The Golden Lynx of Rhagae. Though it is completely made up, it seemed fitting for a royal Persian struggling to keep his kingdom from Greek colonizers. One aspect of The Queen of Warriors is the idea of telling the tale of colonization from two different perspectives. We are used to reading the Alexander the Great narrative from the Greek perspective, but it’s not hard to imagine that from the Persian side, Alexander was no hero.
During my research I read that the Greeks essentially called all outsiders “barbarian.” Persians did the same. It tickled me to imagine my characters sitting around calling each other barbarian while still admiring each other. 
Despite this idea of “otherness,” both my main characters grew up in a multi-cultural world, rich in language, architecture, textiles, cuisine, poetry, and religion. The diversity of religions and gods at this time is as important to my novel as it was to my characters.  As a Zoroastrian, Artaxerxes strives to uphold the light and never lie. For him truth is paramount. His initial encounter with Alexandra results in a death, and they make a bargain that involves a proper Zoroastrian burial. Ancient texts generally show a great respect for the religions and burial practices of others. I imagine that any warrior would like to think they’d be given the same respect if they were the one to die.
As a Hellenistic Greek, Alexandra of Sparta is a devotee of Artemis. She admires trickery and has no problem telling lies. In fact, lies or exaggeration help her reputation and help her maintain her rule of a mercenary army. The juxtaposition between my two main characters’ cultures was interesting to play with from a romantic and a political perspective. The more research I did, the more dialogue they exchanged, and the more intimate they became, the more real they became.

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

TLC Book Tours: After the Flood by Kassandra Montag

Title: After the Flood
Author: Kassandra Montag 
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: William Morrow
Publish Date: September 3, 2019
Source: TLC Book Tours and HarperCollins

What's the Story?:

From "A little more than a century from now, our world has been utterly transformed. After years of slowly overtaking the continent, rising floodwaters have obliterated America’s great coastal cities and then its heartland, leaving nothing but an archipelago of mountaintop colonies surrounded by a deep expanse of open water.

Stubbornly independent Myra and her precocious seven-year-old daughter, Pearl, fish from their small boat, the Bird, visiting dry land only to trade for supplies and information in the few remaining outposts of civilization. For seven years, Myra has grieved the loss of her oldest daughter, Row, who was stolen by her father after a monstrous deluge overtook their home in Nebraska. Then, in a violent confrontation with a stranger, Myra suddenly discovers that Row was last seen in a far-off encampment near the Arctic Circle. Throwing aside her usual caution, Myra and Pearl embark on a perilous voyage into the icy northern seas, hoping against hope that Row will still be there.

On their journey, Myra and Pearl join forces with a larger ship and Myra finds herself bonding with her fellow seekers who hope to build a safe haven together in this dangerous new world. But secrets, lust, and betrayals threaten their dream, and after their fortunes take a shocking—and bloody—turn, Myra can no longer ignore the question of whether saving Row is worth endangering Pearl and her fellow travelers."

My Two Cents:

In "After the Flood," the world has been devastated by an enormous flood that lasted for years and years. Now only the tops of the world's mountains are visible and livable and most of the remaining population of the world is relegated to living on boats or living on the small slivers of land that still exist. Myra is a mother on a mission. While her youngest daughter, Pearl, is right by her side, she is still affected by the loss of her eldest daughter, Ro, who was taken away from her by her husband in the chaos of the flood. Myra has learned how to carve out a living for her and Pearl through her wonderful fishing skills. This is a story of a mother's love for her children and her drive whenever she feels that they might be in danger.

The book is told through Myra's point of view. I thought this was a really smart choice. You get to know her innermost thoughts and why she is so driven to find Ro, even if it means searching the whole world for her. A mother's love knows no bounds! Myra must constantly rely on her cunning to get to where she thinks Ro might be. It means that she has to be deceptive and sometimes ruthless with those around her. I admired her drive all the way through! The secondary characters are really great. I loved Pearl, who must display such a high level of maturity and strength at such a young age. I also liked the comedic relief of her and her snakes! The crew of the ship that Myra and Pearl link up with was such a great addition as well!

I love dystopian fiction and really good dystopian fiction has really good world building, which I absolutely adore. I love wondering about what might be and what you would feel going through different situations. This book definitely allows you do it! The author includes so many little details that you can feel the sea breeze, you can see the ocean made rocky by the mountain tops piercing through, and you can understand the thoughts of the characters as they go through everything they go through in the book.

This is Kassandra Montag's debut novel and it is an exciting kickoff of what is hopefully to come for her! Supremely imaginative and well-detailed, this was a great ride!

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Reading Challenge Update!

As a reminder, I am aiming to read a book from or set in each country the Department of State recognizes, which is 195 countries!

I had a really good month in August! I'm noticing that I have a lot of harder countries on my list now and I think it may be getting harder to find books that fit the bill. It is amazing to me how difficult it is to find books for so many of these countries in translation. I'm also finding that children's and YA literature is often more diverse than adult literature.
I read books from this many countries in July:
You can check out my progress on my map or see a list of where and what I'm reading here.

I have read 72 books for this challenge so far.

Take a look at my list! What else should I be reading?

Monday, September 9, 2019

TLC Book Tours: The Third Daughter by Talia Carner

Title: The Third Daughter 
Author: Talia Carner
Format: Paperback
Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks
Publish Date: September 3, 2019
Source: TLC Book Tours

What's the Story?:

From "The turn of the 20th century finds fourteen-year-old Batya in the Russian countryside, fleeing   with her family endless pogroms. Desperate, her father leaps at the opportunity to marry Batya to a worldly, wealthy stranger who can guarantee his daughter an easy life and passage to America.

 Feeling like a princess in a fairytale, Batya leaves her old life behind as she is whisked away to a new world. But soon she discovers that she’s entered a waking nightmare. Her new “husband” does indeed bring her to America: Buenos Aires, a vibrant, growing city in which prostitution is not only legal but deeply embedded in the culture. And now Batya is one of thousands of women tricked and sold into the oldest profession in the world.

As the years pass, Batya forms deep bonds with her “sisters” in the brothel as well as some men who are both kind and cruel. Through it all, she holds onto one dream: to bring her family to America, where they will be safe from the anti-Semitism that plagues Russia. Just as Batya is becoming a known tango dancer,  she gets an unexpected but dangerous opportunity—to help bring down the criminal network that has enslaved so many young women and has been instrumental in developing Buenos Aires into   a major metropolis."

My Two Cents:

In "The Third Daughter," Batya's family is struggling. The Russian Czar is trying to boot all of Jews out of Russia. Batya's family has faced tragedy after tragedy and life is hard. When a stranger appears offering the promise of a new life in America for Batya, her family doesn't think twice about marrying her off in order for her to have a brighter future. Looks can be deceiving though and this stranger has no intention of bringing Batya to America but to South America to be sold into sexual slavery in Buenos Aires. This was a fascinating and wonderfully detailed story of resilience and strength about a time and place that I had very little familiarity with!

One of the things that I most love about historical fiction is the doors that it opens to events that I am not familiar with. In the late 1800s, there were thousands of Eastern European girls that were trafficked to Buenos Aires by Zwi Migdal, a union of pimps in Buenos Aires. The Union was basically allowed to do whatever it wanted with implicit permission of the Argentinian government, who often seemed all too willing to look the other way as the union systematically ruined these young women's lives and stole them away from home.

This book is filled with wonderful characters, including our main character, Batya. Batya is only 14 years old when she is taken away from her family. She is so very young and while trafficking is always a difficult subject to read about, I was particularly struck by it happening to someone so young. Batya is absolutely terrified when she is first separated from her family. She faces so many terrible situations on the way from Europe to Buenos Aires but her inner strength keeps her afloat and she does what she needs to do to survive and eventually get a happy ending.

The events in the book are pretty dark but I am so happy that there are books like this to shed light on some of the darker parts of our shared history. The detail in this book is great and really brings Batya's and so many girls like her stories to life. While the story itself is really great, make sure you read the Author's Note at the end where the author shares her inspiration for the story. Overall, this was a great book!


Friday, August 30, 2019

TLC Book Tours: Castle of Concrete by Katia Raina

Title: Castle of Concrete
Author: Katia Raina
Format: ARC
Publisher: Young Europe Books
Publish Date: June 11, 2019
Source: TLC Book Tours

What's the Story?:

From "In 1990-1991, when the history of Russia and the entire Soviet Union is being revisited and the rules are changing, a fifteen-year-old Jewish girl, Sonya Solovay, reunites with her dissident mother after twelve years of hiding out in Siberia--her life's dream realized. Still, she sees herself as a typical Soviet citizen: a shy, quiet, obedient, barely-there girl, dissolving into the past, her country's and her own. Determined to break into her new existence, Sonya tries out a shining new persona, but most of her efforts backfire. One mysterious boy notices her, wants to hear her stories, makes her feel like she is the shiniest part of his world. Everything else might as well fade away--her distant and hungry-for-gossip classmates, the equally shy Jewish friend who doesn't always seem to understand her, the growing tension with her fiercely Jewish Mama, the rumors of an impending communist coup. More and more, Sonya spends time with her "rescuer" at a construction site she calls "castle." So what if he uses an occasional anti-Semitic slur?

In the shadow of a crane, among metal pipes and concrete blocks, she finds it easy, falling, falling in love with a muddy-eyed boy she knows so little about. As for being Jewish in a country where the Republics are supposed to be "sisters" and the People brothers," what does one's nationality have to do with anything?

All the while, Sonya's mama is falling in love also: she is falling in love with shiny America, a land where where being different seems to be celebrated, and not everyone is so very Russian and snow-white. The place sounds amazing, but so far away. Will Sonya ever find her way there?"

My Two Cents:

"Castle of Concrete" is the story of a teenage girl named Sonya just as the Soviet Union is beginning to crack. While the country is rapidly changing, Sonya's life is rapidly changing as well. She is now living with her mother, who often feels like a stranger. She is trying to get used to living in a new city and to going to a new school. She's falling in love for the first time against the background of a volatile new world as Russia emerges from the Soviet time period.

I have read plenty of non-fiction about the end of the Soviet Union but I have not read much, if any fiction set during the end of the Soviet Union. It was fascinating to get a taste of how younger people might have saw the shift in the government at the time. The changes underline everything throughout the story.

Sonya is a great character that I loved following through this story. Although things are rapidly changing in her country and she is definitely aware of how it effects her. She has just recently become aware of her Jewish heritage and although her country is changing their views on things like religion, she is still acutely aware of the difficulty she faces in being able to openly embrace this identity. We also get to see Sonya as she falls in love for the first time. I loved how this book shows that some things about being a teenager are timeless, no matter what else is going on. 

The writing of the book is good. There are some really lovely turns of phrase throughout the book. I also loved how the author captured both our main character, Sonya, and the secondary characters as well!

Monday, August 26, 2019

A Chadwick Treasury: The Four Classic Stories of an Adventurous Blue Crab and His Chesapeake Bay Friends by Priscilla Cummings

Title: A Chadwick Treasury: The Four Classic Stories of an Adventurous Blue Crab and His Chesapeake Bay Friends
Author: Priscilla Cummings
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: Schiffer Publishing
Publish Date: June 2019 
Source: PR


What's the Story?:

From "The Chadwick Treasury begins with the original story of Chadwick the Crab, a little crab in the Chesapeake Bay who has big dreams of becoming a star at the National Aquarium in Baltimore. The adventures continue when Chadwick teams up with friends Bernie the Sea Gull, Toulouse the Canada Goose, and Baron Von Heron, among others, to tackle the problem of pollution in Chadwick and the Garplegrungen. Romance blossoms next. Chadwick asks his special friend, Esmerelda, to marry him. Chadwick's Wedding is a joyous event in Shady Creek. Finally, in Chadwick Forever, our beloved crabs celebrate the arrival of their new family just when other bay friends find themselves on the endangered species list. Chadwick hopes readers will enjoy the stories and will also be inspired to help keep the Chesapeake Bay a safe place to live."

My Two Cents:

"The Chadwick Treasury" is the story of a little blue crab that lives in the Chesapeake Bay in Maryland with a bunch of animal friends. All Chadwick wants is to make sure that everyone knows about the Chesapeake Bay and maybe even become a star to make sure everyone hears that message! With great illustrations and good stories, this was the perfect book to introduce my girls to what the Chesapeake Bay is and why it's so important to protect it.

As a Marylander, I love the Chesapeake Bay. It is such an amazing resource and a very important one as well. It contributes to a ton of business and leisure around the state. I love that this book can take a really important subject like the Chesapeake Bay and its preservation and put it at a level that young children can understand and enjoy. This book was such a great jumping off point for a lot of good conversations with my girls about what the Bay is, who lives in the Bay, and what we can do to help them!


Monday, August 19, 2019

HFVBT Cover Reveal: Dreamland

Dreamland by Nancy Bilyeau

Publication Date: January 16, 2020
Endeavor Quill
Genre: Historical Fiction The year is 1911 when twenty-year-old heiress Peggy Batternberg is invited to spend the summer in America’s Playground. But the invitation to Coney Island is unwelcome. Despite hailing from one of America’s richest families, Peggy would much rather spend the summer at the Moonrise Bookstore where she works voluntarily, than keeping up appearances with Brooklyn socialites and her snobbish, controlling family. But soon it transpires that the hedonism of Coney Island affords Peggy more of the freedom she has been longing for. For one, she finds herself in love with a troubled pier-side artist of humble means, whom the Batternberg patriarchs would surely disapprove of. Disapprove they may, but hidden behind their pomposity lurks a web of deceit, betrayal and deadly secrets. And as bodies begin to mount up amidst the sweltering clamour of Coney Island, it seems the powerful Batternbergs can get away with anything…even murder.s It is up to Peggy to overcome the oppression of her family and clear the name of her vulnerable lover, before she or her beloved sister become the next victims of Dreamland. Extravagant, intoxicating and thumping with suspense, bestselling Nancy Bilyeau’s magnificent Dreamland is a story of corruption, class and dangerous obsession.

About the Author

"Dreamland" is Nancy Bilyeau's fifth novel of historical suspense. She is the author of the best-selling historical thriller “The Blue” and the Tudor mystery series “The Crown,” “The Chalice,” and “The Tapestry,” on sale in nine countries. Nancy is a magazine editor who has lived in the United States and Canada. She studied History and English Literature at the University of Michigan. After moving to New York City, she worked on the staffs of “InStyle,” “Good Housekeeping,” and “Rolling Stone.” She is currently the deputy editor of the Center on Media, Crime and Justice at the Research Foundation of CUNY and a regular contributing writer to “Town & Country" and "Mystery Scene Magazine." Nancy’s mind is always in past centuries but she currently lives with her husband and two children in Forest Hills in the borough of Queens. "Dreamland" is her first novel set in her adopted hometown of New York City.

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Cover Reveal Schedule

Monday, August 19 A Bookish Affair Gwendalyn's Books What Is That Book About Tuesday, August 20 Clarissa Reads it All Just One More Chapter Books In Their Natural Habitat Wednesday, August 21 Unabridged Chick Donna's Book Blog Let Them Read Books Thursday, August 22 A Book Geek The Lit Bitch Tar Heel Reader Kris Waldherr Art & Words Friday, August 23 I'm All About Books Lost_in_a_book_reviewer Historical Fiction with Spirit Saturday, August 24 Broken Teepee Passages to the Past Locks, Hooks and Books Sunday, August 25 A Darn Good Read Orange County Readers So Many Books, So Little Time Monday, August 26 Coffee and Ink Jessica Belmont Maiden of the Pages

Monday, August 12, 2019

Review: Song of a Captive Bird by Jasmin Darznik

Title: Song of a Captive Bird
Author: Jasmin Darznik
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: Ballantine Books
Publish Date: February 13, 2018
Source: Library

What's the Story?:

From "All through her childhood in Tehran, Forugh is told that Iranian daughters should be quiet and modest. She is taught only to obey, but she always finds ways to rebel—gossiping with her sister among the fragrant roses of her mother’s walled garden, venturing to the forbidden rooftop to roughhouse with her three brothers, writing poems to impress her strict, disapproving father, and sneaking out to flirt with a teenage paramour over café glacé. It’s during the summer of 1950 that Forugh’s passion for poetry really takes flight—and that tradition seeks to clip her wings.

Forced into a suffocating marriage, Forugh runs away and falls into an affair that fuels her desire to write and to achieve freedom and independence. Forugh’s poems are considered both scandalous and brilliant; she is heralded by some as a national treasure, vilified by others as a demon influenced by the West. She perseveres, finding love with a notorious filmmaker and living by her own rules—at enormous cost. But the power of her writing grows only stronger amid the upheaval of the Iranian revolution."

My Two Cents:

In "Song of a Captive Bird," Forugh is expected to fit into the mold of the ideal Iranian woman in the middle of the 20th century. She is expected to follow her parents' orders and do as she is told but she has a spirit that cannot be contained. She has a poet's heart and she wants to write. She wants to be able to call the shots on her own life. This is a phenomenal story that gives you a front row seat to a really fascinating woman.

I love stories about strong women and Forugh is most definitely a strong woman with a mind of her own. I loved how this story captured how when you want to write, you will do anything to be able to write. She is so driven to write her poetry that she forgoes a lot of the traditional trappings of what a woman is supposed to be in Iran in the 1950s and 1960s. She leaves a marriage. She leaves a child behind. She sets Tehran on fire with rumors of her long list of lovers. She writes what's on her heart for all to see! She was such a great character and I can't believe I had never heard of her before.

As many of you know, I'm trying to tackle books from every country this year. This is my pick for Iran and I was so happy to be able to find a fiction book set during a time in Iran's history that I didn't know much about. I feel like I've read a lot about the revolution and the time after so it was interesting to see just how quickly the country was changing, particularly through the eyes of Forugh. I loved all of the historical description. The description of the newspaper was particularly interesting!

The writing in this book was so good! I really enjoyed the first person point of view in the book. I loved being able to step into Forugh's shoes and see what she saw. This was a fantastic book! 


Tuesday, August 6, 2019

HFVBT Review: The Undertaker's Assistant by Amanda Skenandore

Title: The Undertaker's Assistant 
Author: Amanda Skenandore
Format: ARC
Publisher: Kensington
Publish Date: July 30, 2019
Source: HFVBT

What's the Story?:

From ""The dead can't hurt you. Only the living can." Effie Jones, a former slave who escaped to the Union side as a child, knows the truth of her words. Taken in by an army surgeon and his wife during the War, she learned to read and write, to tolerate the sight of blood and broken bodies--and to forget what is too painful to bear. Now a young freedwoman, she has returned south to New Orleans and earns her living as an embalmer, her steady hand and skillful incisions compensating for her white employer's shortcomings.

Tall and serious, Effie keeps her distance from the other girls in her boarding house, holding tight to the satisfaction she finds in her work. But despite her reticence, two encounters--with a charismatic state legislator named Samson Greene, and a beautiful young Creole, Adeline--introduce her to new worlds of protests and activism, of soirees and social ambition. Effie decides to seek out the past she has blocked from her memory and try to trace her kin. As her hopes are tested by betrayal, and New Orleans grapples with violence and growing racial turmoil, Effie faces loss and heartache, but also a chance to finally find her place . . .

My Two Cents:

"The Undertaker's Assistant" is a fantastic historical fiction set just after the Civil War. Our main character is tough-as-nails Effie, a freedwoman, who was the assistant to a surgeon during the Civil War - almost unheard of for a woman and particularly unheard of for a black woman. Effie has very few memories from her childhood and seems to be doing everything to avoid dwelling on the past. She goes to New Orleans to make a living as an undertaker's assistant, it is definitely not a job for everyone but Effie seems to be more comfortable with the dead than the living oftentimes.

I loved Effie's character. She is tough and smart and has always done what she has needed to do to survive. She relies on herself as much as she can but she seems to be constantly running from the past and the bad memories that seem to crop up if she stays still for too long. At first, she seems quite cold and strange - what young lady would want to work with dead people? As the book unfolds, we see that there is much more there than meets the eye. We see her grow and bloom throughout the book and I loved following her.

New Orleans is one of those cities that had to grow on me. It took me three visits before I fell in love with it. It makes for such a good setting for this book. New Orleans has almost a mystical and sometimes macabre feeling to it. It is the perfect backdrop for Effie's story and her dealings with the dead. Add to it all of the things that were going on after the Civil War as people grappled with what the outcome meant for them and the lives they wanted to build.

The historical detail in this book is so good. Not for the tender-hearted but the descriptions of preparing the dead was fascinating. Effie pulls us into her world with nary a blink. I actually haven't read a lot of books set during Reconstruction so it was so interested to read how people were grappling with this brand new world. Overall, this was a great read and I am excited to see what the author writes in the future!

Monday, August 5, 2019

Review: Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese

Title: Cutting for Stone
Author: Abraham Verghese 
Format: Paperback
Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf
Publish Date: February 2009
Source: Owned

What's the Story?:

From "Marion and Shiva Stone are twin brothers born of a secret union between a beautiful Indian nun and a brash British surgeon at a mission hospital in Addis Ababa. Orphaned by their mother’s death in childbirth and their father’s disappearance, bound together by a preternatural connection and a shared fascination with medicine, the twins come of age as Ethiopia hovers on the brink of revolution. Yet it will be love, not politics—their passion for the same woman—that will tear them apart and force Marion, fresh out of medical school, to flee his homeland. He makes his way to America, finding refuge in his work as an intern at an underfunded, overcrowded New York City hospital. When the past catches up to him—nearly destroying him—Marion must entrust his life to the two men he thought he trusted least in the world: the surgeon father who abandoned him and the brother who betrayed him."

My Two Cents:

"Cutting for Stone" is one of those books where I can't believe it took me so long to get to it! My Reading Challenge for this year (trying to read a book set in every country) luckily pushed me to get this book off my TBR and on to my read list. In Ethiopia, twins Marlon and Shiva are born out of a secret love affair and adopted by a couple of Indian doctors. We see them grow up throughout the book and begin to get curious about their origins and how that story has shaped the rest of their life.

Especially since having my own twins, I am fascinated by twin stories. It is so interesting to see how connected the twins are to each other even when a betrayal between the brothers literally forces continents between them. The relationship really rang true to me. When the twins try to extricate themselves from each other, they are still pulled towards each other in ways that they never expected. 

The characters in the book are so good and so memorable. The twins were definitely my favorite but I love how the author makes the secondary characters stand apart as well. Each of the secondary characters play such a key role in the lives of the twins and I like how they become a major part of the story themselves. 

This book is set in Ethiopia at a volatile time in the country's history where the country is rapidly changing. This book was a great introduction to the country for me. I really enjoyed seeing the country through this fictional story. The detail was really good and I loved how vivid the setting was!

Friday, August 2, 2019

Reading Challenge Update

As a reminder, I am aiming to read a book from or set in each country the Department of State recognizes, which is 195 countries!

I feel like I was able to get back into my groove a little bit more this month! I'm having a lot of trouble finding books for any island country and any of the former Soviet countries so if you have suggestions for those ones, I am all ears!
I read books from this many countries in July:
You can check out my progress on my map or see a list of where and what I'm reading here.

I have read 63 books for this challenge so far.

Take a look at my list! What else should I be reading?

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

HFVBT Review: In the Full Light of the Sun by Clare Clark

Title: In the Full Light of the Sun
Author: Clare Clark
Format: ARC
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publish Date: July 9, 2019
Source: HFVBT

What's the Story?:

From "Hedonistic and politically turbulent, Berlin in the 1920s is a city of seedy night clubs and sumptuous art galleries. It is home to millionaires and mobs storming bakeries for rationed bread. These disparate Berlins collide when Emmeline, a young art student; Julius, an art expert; and a mysterious dealer named Rachmann all find themselves caught up in the astonishing discovery of thirty-two previously unknown paintings by Vincent van Gogh."

My Two Cents:

 "In the Full Light of the Sun" is a story loosely based a true story of greed and art. In 1920s and 1930s Berlin, the city teems with drama. It is both a place of extreme wealth and extreme poverty. Whispers of instability fill the air. This book centers on three people: Julius, Emmeline, and Rachmann. All are drawn to art in different ways but have very different motives when it comes to a treasure trove of previously unknown Vincent Van Gogh originals. Looks can be deceiving though and things can often be too good to be true.

Art? Check! Historical fiction? Check! I was immediately drawn to this book by the promise of art and historical fiction. I was further drawn in by the promise of Vincent Van Gogh specifically as he is one of my very favorite artists. I loved the little bits of insight that we get into Van Gogh from the bits and pieces of correspondence and biography included in the book. You get to see Van Gogh in a bit of a different light, which I loved.

The characters were pretty good. I did wish that we got to understand what made each of our main characters tick a little bit more. We often see the characters in the book through the lens of their interpersonal relationships but not about their motivations. The characters still felt relatively unknown to me by the end of the book.

The story itself was interesting! I have always been fascinated about the idea of unscrupulous people trying to make a quick buck off of fake paintings. There have been a couple high profile cases, to include one specifically having to do with Van Gogh paintings in 1920s/1930s Germany but this book is not a fictionalization of that specific case. I loved the detail about how the mystery of the paintings was unraveled in the book.

This book would be a great jumping off point to learn about some of the real cases behind the story's inspiration.

Monday, July 15, 2019

Interview with Meghan Holloway, Author of Once More Unto the Breach

I am so very pleased to have Meghan Holloway, author of "Once More Unto the Breach" here on A Bookish Affair today. I thoroughly enjoyed this debut novel and you can check out my review here!

What was the inspiration behind "Once More Unto the Breach?"

I love the World War era. That entire first half of the 20th century speaks to me. I grew up hearing my grandparents’ stories of the Second World War. I had a number of great uncles who were in the European theatre. Each one came home, but each one returned so marked from his experiences. It was such a period of tumult and horror on a global scale that had never been seen before, and it was met with this incredible tenacity and courage. There is a reason that generation is called the Greatest Generation. This period shaped entire generations in their art, literature, philosophy, politics, everything. The World Wars had such an influence on society, and we still feel that influence today. That period of history is close enough to still feel very real to a modern audience, and it is such rich, rich fodder for the intensely human story. 

I have always wanted to write a tale set in the era, and when the character of Rhys came to me, I knew this story of love, family, home, and the regrets we carry with us was one I needed to tell.

What is the strangest or most interesting thing you found out in your book?

I think one of the most interesting things I learned about writing while working on ONCE MORE UNTO THE BREACH is the challenge of creating a seamless balance between story and rich historical detail fleshed out through research. I found it easy to get carried away with including every fascinating tidbit I found related to the period, and I had to be mindful of adding detail only as it related to the plot and furthered the tale. For example, try as I might, there was no way for me to include details about the slugs used in WWI to detect mustard gas. That might have been the strangest historical detail I discovered, and, while fascinating, it would not have served the story in any way. There is a difference between rich detail and enriching detail, and it is a fine line to walk, particularly with a historical setting.

What do you want readers to know before they read your book?

I think regardless of the era or setting in which I write, I am always exploring the human condition, the labyrinth of the mind, and the grittier side of our existence. ONCE MORE UNTO THE BREACH is a tale of war and loss, but also one of family and hope. It is about the love we have for those closest to us, the ease with which we can wound the people we care for the most, and the lengths to which we will go to seek atonement. 

I would also like readers to know how much I appreciate their willingness to spend their hard-earned money and valuable time on my story. I would like to thank readers for joining me on the journey Rhys undertakes in my tale. 

I loved so many characters in the book but there was something special about the inclusion of Otto. Can you tell us why it was important to you to include a dog like Otto?

Unlike my other characters, Otto is actually based on someone near and dear to me:  my standard poodle, Aidan. Standard poodles are a phenomenal breed. They are intelligent, sensitive, sweet, and incredibly human in their mannerisms. And in the spring of 1942, they were one of the thirty-two official breeds classed as war dogs by the Army. It was not until 1944 that poodles were cut from the list before the German Shepherd was declared the official dog of the US Army in 1946. The Nazis were infamous for their use of K-9 unites and had up to 200,000 dogs trained. While they primarily used German Shepherds as war dogs, poodles are of German origin, and I took a bit of creative liberty with the character of Otto. I did not originally have Otto outlined in my plot, but as I was writing, a big, black poodle crept out of the Forest of Fontainebleau and joined my protagonist’s journey. Anyone who knows me knows I have a deep and abiding love for dogs, and the inclusion of Otto was an ode to the constant, pure, faithful companionship dogs offer us.

Rhys and Charlotte were such great characters! It's hard for me to pick who I liked better. Who is your favorite character in this book?

That is really a hard pick. Each character is a favorite for a different reason. I love Rhys’s steadfast nature, his unwavering code of honor, and his willingness to do what needs to be done, even when it is painful for him. I love Charlotte’s pragmatism, her strength, and her cunning. And I have a soft spot for Henri, my antagonist. He views the world through an artist’s lens, but he has a very warped viewpoint. He is undeniably a sociopath, but he also loves dogs, believes women are highly underestimated, and has his own sense of justice. He and Rhys are truly two sides of one coin, but he utterly lacks Rhys’s humanity and compassion. Henri is an appalling character for many, and rightly so, but he was the character I enjoyed writing the most.

This is your debut novel - do you have any advice for aspiring writers?

This is my debut as Meghan Holloway, but I actually had two books published under a pseudonym years back. The publishing house I worked with went under, and both stories have been out of print for a few years now. But my advice to writers is this:  Keep writing and be willing to accept criticism, especially when it is constructive. Writing a story is hard work, but it is not until the editing process that it becomes a novel and you cannot edit a blank page. When it comes down to it, you have to treat writing like it is a job. Make the time every day to put words on paper. You are often entirely too close to your story to recognize its weaknesses and where it needs bolstering. Listen when others make suggestions. And realize that once your story is out there, not everyone is going to love it. The reader’s opinion is his or her prerogative.

If you could choose any three people (fiction or non fiction) to be with you on a deserted island, who would you pick and why?

Hm…As long as I could summon rescue when I was so inclined, have plenty of food provisions, and am not having to rough it too extremely, could I just take my poodle? Some days, a deserted island feels like the perfect writing retreat. 

Thank you so much for having me on your blog, Meg! I would love for readers to join me on social media. My website is, and readers can find me on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram under the handle @AMeghanHolloway. ONCE MORE UNTO THE BREACH is available in e-book, paperback, and audiobook format.

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