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Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Review: The Shadow King: The Life and Death of Henry VI by Lauren Johnson

Title: The Shadow King: The Life and Death of Henry VI
Author: Lauren Johnson
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: Pegasus Books
Publish Date: May 7, 2019
Source: PR

What's the Story?:

From "Firstborn son of a warrior father who defeated the French at Agin- court, Henry VI of the House of Lancaster inherited the crown not only of England but also of France, at a time when Plantagenet dominance over the Valois dynasty was at its glorious height.

And yet, by the time he died in the Tower of London in 1471, France was lost, his throne had been seized by his rival, Edward IV of the House of York, and his kingdom had descended into the violent chaos of the Wars of the Roses.

Henry VI is perhaps the most troubled of English monarchs, a pious, gentle, well-intentioned man who was plagued by bouts of mental illness. In The Shadow King, Lauren Johnson tells his remark- able and sometimes shocking story in a fast-paced and colorful narrative that captures both the poignancy of Henry’s life and the tumultuous and bloody nature of the times in which he lived."

My Two Cents:

"The Shadow King" is an extensive look at the life of Henry VI, a monarch who came to power at a critical time in history. In his early life, he inherited both the crown of England and France. By the end of his life, England had fallen into chaos as warring factions fought over the throne in the War of the Roses. Between these two time periods lived a man who is sometimes characterized as a pacifist and sometimes mad. This book seeks to shed light on the in between with great success. This is a very thorough and well-written account of Henry VI's life and his death.

I think this is the first time that I've read a biography of Henry VI. What a complicated man! Depending on who was writing his story, you get a lot of different opinions. Because of his involvement with the War of the Roses, you get a lot of looks through a biased lens depending on who is writing about him. Was he well-intentioned? Why did he fail so badly? What led to such mismanagement and squandering of his power? Did he cause his own dark circumstances at the end of his life or was he more of a victim? I appreciated that Johnson shows so many sides of this man and the people that surrounded him. 

This book would be a great pick for those that know a lot about Henry VI and those, like me, who know very little. The writing style is very accessible for such a heady topic. I liked how Johnson was able to weave so much detail into something that felt almost story like. She describes Henry's circumstances in such a way that you can imagine what he and some of the secondary characters are going through as England descends into chaos. 

This book was absolutely fascinating! Johnson's portrait of Henry VI is well-researched and well-rounded. I am looking forward to seeing what else she writes!

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Review: Natalie Tan's Book of Luck and Fortune by Roselle Lim

Title: Natalie Tan's Book of Luck and Fortune
Author: Roselle Lim 
Format: ARC
Publisher: Berkley Books
Publish Date: June 11, 2019 (Today!)
Source: Publisher

What's the Story?:

From "At the news of her mother's death, Natalie Tan returns home. The two women hadn't spoken since Natalie left in anger seven years ago, when her mother refused to support her chosen career as a chef. Natalie is shocked to discover the vibrant neighborhood of San Francisco's Chinatown that she remembers from her childhood is fading, with businesses failing and families moving out. She's even more surprised to learn she has inherited her grandmother's restaurant.

The neighborhood seer reads the restaurant's fortune in the leaves: Natalie must cook three recipes from her grandmother's cookbook to aid her struggling neighbors before the restaurant will succeed. Unfortunately, Natalie has no desire to help them try to turn things around--she resents the local shopkeepers for leaving her alone to take care of her agoraphobic mother when she was growing up. But with the support of a surprising new friend and a budding romance, Natalie starts to realize that maybe her neighbors really have been there for her all along."

My Two Cents:

Sometimes you're just looking for a cute read that feels like a warm hug and that is exactly what you get with "Natalie Tan's Book of Luck and Fortune." Natalie returns to her San Francisco Chinatown neighborhood after her mother dies. Stubbornness and friction kept them apart in life and now Natalie is looking for some sort of redemption and to feel closer to both her mother and grandmother's memory. This was a good, cozy read!

I loved Natalie! When Natalie inherits her grandmother's restaurant, she's stunned. She cut all ties with her mother when she wouldn't support Natalie becoming a chef. Natalie hasn't been back to San Francisco for years! We see how she struggles with seeing how her neighborhood has fallen: businesses are closing, people are moving out. She is incredibly driven and knows she wants to make things better for those she still loves in the neighborhood.

There is something special about foodie fiction and this book is most definitely foodie fiction! Natalie's recipes and love for food shines through in this book. I did wish that the book included actual recipes (all of the recipes have ingredients but no amounts). It would be a lot of fun to try to cook her recipes, even without the magical results!

And that brings me to another thing - I love magical realism and this book definitely has a dose of that! Natalie starts trying to make her grandmother's recipes in order to help her friends and neighbors. Things backfire at first until Natalie figures out what she's missing!

Overall, this was a good read with a lot of tasty treats!


Tuesday, June 4, 2019

TLC Book Tours Review and Giveaway: The Woman in the White Kimono by Ana Johns

Title: The Woman in the White Kimono
Author: Ana Johns
Format: ARC
Publisher: Park Row
Publish Date: May 28, 2019
Source: TLC Book Tours

What's the Story?:

From "Japan, 1957. Seventeen-year-old Naoko Nakamura’s prearranged marriage to the son of her father’s business associate would secure her family’s status in their traditional Japanese community, but Naoko has fallen for another man—an American sailor, a gaijin—and to marry him would bring great shame upon her entire family. When it’s learned Naoko carries the sailor’s child, she’s cast out in disgrace and forced to make unimaginable choices with consequences that will ripple across generations.

America, present day. Tori Kovac, caring for her dying father, finds a letter containing a shocking revelation—one that calls into question everything she understood about him, her family and herself. Setting out to learn the truth behind the letter, Tori’s journey leads her halfway around the world to a remote seaside village in Japan, where she must confront the demons of the past to pave a way for redemption."

My Two Cents:

"The Woman in the White Kimono" is a great historical fiction told in two different times. The first story line takes place in 1957 where Naoko is promised to the son of her father's business partner but instead she falls in love with an American sailor. Her family deems her relationship inappropriate and is anything but supportive. In the present-day United States, Tori is taking care of her ill father, who is still hiding secrets in the twilight of his life. These secrets will bring Naoko's and Tori's lives together with surprising results!

In historical fictions with a historical and a present-day narrative, I have a tendency to like the historical narrative better. While I was initially more drawn to what Naoko was facing in the late-1950s, I really liked reading about Tori and how she uncovered her father's past. The author gives you just enough detail in a really beautiful way to keep you reading. Both Naoko and Tori were such great characters. They are both very different but also very strong and you all already know I love a book filled with family secrets!

I loved the historical detail of Naoko's story. I haven't read a lot set in Japan in the post-World War II era. The ill feelings between the Japanese and Americans like Naoko's American lover are still very raw and definitely fraught. I loved watching the characters work through all of this throughout the book. I loved being introduced to this time period through these characters.

Overall, this was a great read!


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Friday, May 31, 2019

Review: Murder Knocks Twice by Susanna Calkins

Title: Murder Knocks Twice
Author: Susanna Calkins 
Format: ARC
Publisher: Minotaur Books
Publish Date: April 30, 2019
Source: PR

What's the Story?:

From "Gina Ricci takes on a job as a cigarette girl to earn money for her ailing father--and to prove to herself that she can hold her own at Chicago's most notorious speakeasy, the Third Door. She's enchanted by the harsh, glamorous world she discovers: the sleek socialites sipping bootlegged cocktails, the rowdy ex-servicemen playing poker in a curtained back room, the flirtatious jazz pianist and the brooding photographer--all overseen by the club's imposing owner, Signora Castallazzo. But the staff buzzes with whispers about Gina's predecessor, who died under mysterious circumstances, and the photographer, Marty, warns her to be careful.

When Marty is brutally murdered, with Gina as the only witness, she's determined to track down his killer. What secrets did Marty capture on his camera--and who would do anything to destroy it? As Gina searches for answers, she's pulled deeper into the shadowy truths hiding behind the Third Door."

My Two Cents:

"Murder Knocks Twice" is a story that takes place in Prohibition Era Chicago. Our heroine Gina gets a job at a speakeasy in order to bring a little money in for her and her father. Her employers Big Mike and Signora happen to be friends of her father and they begin to shed light on the many things that Gina never knew about her father. She also discovers that Marty, the photographer at the club, is a cousin of her mother's, who Gina never really knew. This is a solid kickoff to a new mystery series by Susanna Calkins. 

The characters in the book are great. We have a great heroine in Gina, who doesn't realize how dark things will get. Gina just wants to make some money but she didn't realize just how working in a speakeasy will upend her life. She is a little naive at first but as she starts uncovering what is really going on, her independent streak begins to shine through.

Mafia, speakeasies, flappers - there are few settings that have the sort of ambiance and excitement than the Prohibition Era. Having the book set in Chicago added a bit more excitement. I loved the detail that the author infused to really give the book a sense of place. I loved the cameos by the likes of Jane Addams and Amelia Earhart (one of my personal favorites). The setting definitely added to the book!

I liked the writing! It did take a bit to see where the story was going as there was a lot of explanation of Gina's employment and the murder mystery really doesn't hit for awhile. The book eventually hits a very nice pace and I was excited to see that Goodreads hints at this being the beginning of a new series - count me excited!

Thursday, May 30, 2019

HFVBT Tours Review: Gold Digger, The Remarkable Baby Doe Tabor by Rebecca Rosenberg

Title: Gold Digger, The Remarkable Baby Doe Tabor
Author: Rebecca Rosenberg
Format: ARC
Publisher: Lionheart Publishing
Publish Date: May 28, 2019
Source: HFVBT

What's the Story?:

From "One look at Baby Doe and you know she was meant to be a legend! She was just twenty years old when she came to Colorado to work a gold mine with her new husband. Little did she expect that she’d be abandoned and pregnant and left to manage the gold mine alone. But that didn’t stop her!

She moved to Leadville and fell in love with a married prospector, twice her age. Horace Tabor struck the biggest silver vein in history, divorced his wife and married Baby Doe. Though his new wife was known for her beauty, her fashion, and even her philanthropy, she was never welcomed in polite society.

Discover how the Tabors navigated the worlds of wealth, power, politics, and scandal in the wild days of western mining."

My Two Cents:

"Gold Digger" is the story of Baby Doe Tabor. She makes her way to the wilds of the Colorado mountains with her new husband trying to escape from a difficult family situation. She's abandoned and then falls for Horace Tabor, a prospector who is much older than her. Through gumption and resilience, Baby Doe keeps going to try to find happiness. This is a fascinating story about a strong woman and I enjoyed it.

I love reading stories about strong women and you definitely get one in Baby Doe. This woman is tough as nails and when she gets knocked down (and that happens a lot in this book), she gets back up stronger than before. She is truly a survivor! She goes through a failed marriage and then a lot of societal upset when she remarries. She is never afraid of going against societal norms if it means she can survive. 

I was actually born in Colorado and much of my family still lives there although I've been an East Coaster since I was four. Colorado is such a great setting and I love how it is shown in this book. The gold rush in Colorado really made it live up to the nickname of the "wild west." So many made their own rules in seeking fortune and fame. I loved reading about all of these towns that I've visited with my grandparents. The author does a great job of creating a sense of place throughout the book.

The writing of the book was good! I really enjoyed the author's book "The Secret Life of Mrs. London" and was happy to see the strong writing here. I did wish that the book explained a little more about some of the motivations of the secondary characters but overall, they were written pretty solidly. Overall, this was a good read about a fascinating lady who has largely been lost to history.

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

TLC Book Tours: The Song of the Jade Lily by Kirsty Manning

Title: The Song of the Jade Lily
Author: Kirsty Manning
Format: ARC
Publisher: William Morrow
Publish Date: May 14, 2019
Source: TLC Book Tours

What's the Story?:

From "In 2016, fleeing London with a broken heart, Alexandra returns to Australia to be with her grandparents, Romy and Wilhelm, when her grandfather is dying. With only weeks left together, her grandparents begin to reveal the family mysteries they have kept secret for more than half a century. 

In 1939, two young girls meet in Shanghai, the 'Paris of the East': beautiful local Li and Viennese refugee Romy form a fierce friendship. But the deepening shadows of World War Two fall over the women as Li and Romy slip between the city's glamorous French Concession and the desperate Shanghai Ghetto. Eventually, they are forced separate ways as Romy doubts Li's loyalties.

After Wilhelm dies, Alexandra flies to Shanghai, determined to trace her grandparents' past. As she peels back the layers of their hidden lives, she begins to question everything she knows about her family - and herself. "

My Two Cents:

"The Song of the Jade Lily" is a historical fiction with a split-time narrative. One time takes place in 2016 when Alexandra is tending to her dying grandfather in Australia. She has always been fairly close to both of her grandparents, Wilhelm and Romy, who immigrated from Austria to China during World War II before creating a new life in Australia. The second part takes place in the late 1930s as World War II is tearing the world apart. Romy and her parents leave Europe for the exotic city of Shanghai, China, where they can still enter without a visa. Full of hidden family secrets and interesting settings, this was a great story!

The basis for this story was so fascinating! I have read many stories about Jewish refugees fleeing for places like the United States, South America, and Israel but I don't believe I had read a story about refugees leaving for places like China. While the beaten path can be fun to read about, I also appreciate reading things about events that I don't know much about and this was definitely one of those things. I loved Romy's descriptions of Shanghai and the things she experienced and the people that she met there. The amount of detail in the book was perfection. You can imagine all these places that the characters are seeing very easily.

You all may have caught on that I love a story based on family secrets and this book is full of them.  Alexandra thinks that she knows a lot about her grandparents' lives but as her grandfather is dying, things keep slipping out. These are things that Alexandra never knew about before and she is trying to get to the bottom of all of these things that she thought she knew about her grandparents. She discovers that the past is often difficult.

This book was well-written and I can't wait to see what the author writes next!

Monday, May 20, 2019

A House Update

I have stayed pretty quiet regarding our house situation here. When our neighbors' tree fell on our house 11 months ago, there was no way that I thought we would still be out of our house at this point. It has been an incredibly frustrating and trying 11 months trying to get back home, which is why I am so happy to say that we are finally moving home this week! I am so excited. I hate everything about the moving process but I am so ready to be home!

What this means for A Bookish Affair: my appearance here has already been a little spottier than I like it. It will probably be quite a bit more spotty over the next week or so. I'm so looking forward to having everything go back to normal.

life is tough

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Review: Once More Unto the Breach by Meghan Holloway

Title: Once More Unto the Breach
Author: Meghan Holloway 
Format: ARC
Publisher: Polis Books
Publish Date: May 14, 2019 (Today!!!)
Source: Author

What's the Story?:

From "Rhys Gravenor, Great War veteran and Welsh sheep farmer, arrives in Paris in the midst of the city's liberation with a worn letter in his pocket that may have arrived years too late. As he follows the footsteps of his missing son across an unfamiliar, war-torn country, he struggles to come to terms with the incident that drove a wedge between the two of them.

Joined by Charlotte Dubois, an American ambulance driver with secrets of her own, Rhys discovers that even as liberation sweeps across France, the war is far from over. And his personal war has only begun as he is haunted by memories of previous battles and hampered at every turn by danger and betrayal. In a race against time and the war, Rhys follows his son's trail from Paris to the perilous streets of Vichy to the starving mobs in Lyon to the treacherous Alps. But Rhys is not the only one searching for his son. In a race of his own, a relentless enemy stalks him across the country and will stop at nothing to find the young man first.

The country is in tatters, no one is trustworthy, and Rhys must unravel the mystery of his son's wartime actions in the desperate hope of finding him before it's too late. Too late to mend the frayed bond between them. Too late to beg his forgiveness. Too late to bring him home alive.

My Two Cents:

"Once More Unto the Breach" is a fantastic historical fiction of a father, Rhys, trying to find his son in war-torn Europe. With the help of a intrepid American ambulance driver, Charlotte, and a faithful dog, Otto, Rhys will discover that there is much more to Owain's time on the European mainland than meets the eye. This is a wonderful adventure story infused with great historical detail, memorable characters, and love. I really enjoyed this impressive debut novel!

The characters in this book are absolutely amazing! The relationship between Rhys and Owain is so very complicated but you can see the love between them. Rhys and his son, Owain, part on bad terms. Rhys is a Great War veteran who is hurt when his son becomes a conscientious objector. Rhys doesn't know exactly what Owain is doing on the mainland, far away from their Welsh farm, but when Owain goes missing, he knows he needs to find him. I don't want to give anything away but the mystery of what Owain was doing kept me reading. I also loved Charlotte. She is so fascinating and is with Rhys every step of the way even when things get incredibly dangerous. I loved the inclusion of sweet, brave, faithful Otto the poodle as well! My only criticism is that I would have liked to know more about Henri's background (this is the mysterious man that pursues Rhys across the continent).

Just when I think I'm getting tired of World War II fiction along comes a book like this that shows me why this time period is still so popular. I really liked reading about how every day people put everything on the line to try to make things better for everyone in the face of such devastation (apologies for the vagueness but I don't want to spoil anything for you). This book has tons of twists and turns to keep it interesting.

The writing of the book is great! Again, this is a debut novel and it's a home run for me. The detail is wonderful and the descriptions are so vivid. This is the kind of story that you get lost on. It's also one where you get totally attached to the characters and stuck on imagining what happens after the last page (more please?). I definitely recommend this book!

Review: The Key to Happily Ever After by Tif Marcelo

Title: The Key to Happily Ever After
Author: Tif Marcelo
Format: Ebook
Publisher: Gallery Books
Publish Date: May 14, 2019
Source: PR/ Author

What's the Story?:

From "All’s fair in love and business.

The de la Rosa family and their wedding planning business have been creating happily ever afters in the Washington, DC area for years, making even the most difficult bride’s day a fairytale. But when their parents announce their retirement, the sisters—Marisol, Janelyn, and Pearl—are determined to take over the business themselves.

But the sisters quickly discover that the wedding business isn’t all rings and roses. There are brides whose moods can change at the drop of a hat; grooms who want to control every part of the process; and couples who argue until their big day. As emotions run high, the de la Rosa sisters quickly realize one thing: even when disaster strikes—whether it’s a wardrobe malfunction or a snowmageddon in the middle of a spring wedding—they’ll always have each other."

My Two Cents:

 "The Key to Happily Ever After" is the story of three sisters who take over their family wedding store after their parents finally decide to retire. Although the women have been around the business for a long time, they don't realize how hard it is going to be to deal with brides who have very specific ideas about how their wedding should be or how hard it may be to work with each other. Luckily, these three sisters, Mari, Janelyn, and Pearl, are close and committed and ambitious. They will make it work!

This was a great family story with a delightful romantic bend to it! I love family stories, especially ones about sisters so much. The author does a great job of making each sister stand out and giving each of them a different personality. It was so fun to see how they compliment each other, even when their differences sometimes cause some friction. I loved the relationships between these sisters.

Like I mentioned, there is also a bit of romance in the book. I don't want to give anything away but the romantic relationships in the book seem like they could provide fodder for future books about the same characters (yes, please!!!). I loved the trajectory of these different relationships throughout the book and they definitely made for a fun read.

The setting was great! I, of course, live just outside of D.C. so I'm always interested in books set in this area and how well they capture the feel of the area. This book specifically takes place in Old Town Alexandria, one of the loveliest cities in the area. I loved how the author captured the feel of the place. It definitely lent to my enjoyment of the book! Overall, this was a cute read and I am hopeful for more books about this great family!

Monday, May 13, 2019

Blog Tour: Park Avenue Summer by Renee Rosen

Title: Park Avenue Summer
Author: Renee Rosen
Format: Paperback 
Publisher: Berkley
Publish Date: April 30, 2019
Source: Publisher

What's the Story?:

From "Mad Men meets The Devil Wears Prada as Renée Rosen draws readers into the glamour of 1965 New York City and Cosmopolitan Magazine, where a brazen new Editor-in-Chief--Helen Gurley Brown--shocks America by daring to talk to women about all things off limits...

New York City is filled with opportunities for single girls like Alice Weiss who leaves her small Midwestern town to chase her big city dreams and unexpectedly lands the job of a lifetime working for Helen Gurley Brown, the first female Editor-in-Chief of a then failing Cosmopolitan Magazine.

Nothing could have prepared Alice for the world she enters as editors and writers resign on the spot, refusing to work for the woman who wrote the scandalous bestseller, Sex and the Single Girl. While confidential memos, article ideas, and cover designs keep finding their way into the wrong hands, someone tries to pull Alice into this scheme to sabotage her boss. But Alice remains loyal and becomes all the more determined to help Helen succeed. As pressure mounts at the magazine and Alice struggles to make her way in New York, she quickly learns that in Helen Gurley Brown's world, a woman can demand to have it all."

My Two Cents:

In "Park Avenue Summer," Alice dreams of being a photographer. When she gets an opportunity to work for Helen Gurley Brown as she takes over the women's magazine, Cosmopolitan, it isn't exactly what she dreams of doing but she can see it as a way to get to where she wants to be. Helen is a bright, bold woman who dreams of creating a magazine for the modern woman in the mid-1960s when what a modern women is supposed to be in very much still being debated. Alice has a front-row seat to a revolution that she never expected!

I feel like I had been waiting for this book for forever. One downside of following the book industry so closely is that the time period between hearing about a book and actually getting your hands on said book is often terribly long and hard to wait for. I've loved Renee Rosen's other books and was excited to get my hands on this one. I was not disappointed!

Helen Gurley Brown is super fascinating and it's shocking to me that as far as I know, no one has taken her on in fiction. This is the woman that changed the face of the magazine industry. She molded Cosmopolitan into a model for all magazines (not just women's magazines). She believed in herself even when so many others saw her as too rash and too willing to seemingly follow the wind. We get to know her through the eyes of Alice, a woman who is very much still trying to figure out how to stand on her own. The juxtaposition was super interesting and kept me reading.

The details in the book were great. New York City is one of those places that I love visiting in real life and through books. I loved all of the detail that the author gave to the world-building aspect of the book. Alice is new to the city and is getting used to living in the hustle bustle of the city in the swinging sixties. I loved seeing the city and its people through Alice's eyes.

This was a great book and I can't wait to see what Renee Rosen writes next! 

Sunday, May 12, 2019

HFVBT Review: A Murderous Malady by Christine Trent

Title: A Murderous Malady
Author: Christine Trent
Format: eBook
Publisher: Crooked Lane Books
Publish Date: May 7, 2019
Source: HFVBT

What's the Story?:

From "The London summer of 1854 is drawing to a close when a deadly outbreak of cholera grips the city. Florence Nightingale is back on the scene marshaling her nurses to help treat countless suffering patients at Middlesex Hospital as the disease tears through the Soho slums. But beyond the dangers of the disease, something even more evil is seeping through the ailing streets of London.

It begins with an attack on the carriage of Florence’s friend, Elizabeth Herbert, wife to Secretary at War Sidney Herbert. Florence survives, but her coachman does not. Within hours, Sidney’s valet stumbles into the hospital, mutters a few cryptic words about the attack, and promptly dies from cholera. Frantic that an assassin is stalking his wife, Sidney enlists Florence’s help, who accepts but has little to go on save for the valet’s last words and a curious set of dice in his jacket pocket. Soon, the suspects are piling up faster than cholera victims, as there seems to be no end to the number of people who bear a grudge against the Herbert household.

Now, Florence is in a race against time—not only to save the victims of a lethal disease, but to foil a murderer with a disturbingly sinister goal—in A Murderous Malady."

My Two Cents:

In "A Murderous Malady," Florence Nightingale is still tending to the sick with her incomparable nursing skills but she is also solving the mystery of the attempted murder of her dear friend. She is secure in her medical skills but she isn't sure where to start with solving the mystery offered up to her. Add to this that a massive cholera outbreak has just hit London. Can Florence handle it all?

This is the second book in Christine Trent's Florence Nightingale Mystery series. I have not read the first book. I think "A Murderous Malady" works pretty well as a stand alone. I think that perhaps reading the first book may have given a little more insight into some of the secondary characters in the second book, which would have been nice to have. More importantly, I loved Florence and I would love to get to know her better through the first book even though you really do get a good sense of her in this book.

I loved the idea of Florence Nightingale as a detective of sorts. This book takes place before she went to be a nurse in the Crimean War. She throws herself into the mystery of her friend's attempted murder but she also throws herself into helping people hurt by the cholera outbreak, which so badly affected so many people. We get to see how Nightingale is the definition of grace under pressure.

The writing of this book was good. The beginning started with a bang and then slowed a bit but it had a satisfying ending. I loved all of the details that the author included. You have a really nice mix between a good mystery and a lot of solid scene-setting  in the form of good detail about London at a particularly volatile time. The details of how everyone was handling the cholera outbreak as it spread was particularly good. I loved how the author was able to weave everything all together.  

Monday, May 6, 2019

Let's Sparkle!

One love of mine that probably doesn't come across that often on A Bookish Affair is the fact that I love jewelry, like really, really love jewelry. My four year olds will always tell me I'm missing my jewelry when I don't have any on (even if it's right after I wake up). This is why I was so excited that Anjolee, a jewelry company reached out to me to allow me to sample some of their gorgeous jewels in exchange for a review . While Anjolee has a ton of gorgeous styles in earrings, necklaces, and rings to choose from, I was really interested in the diamond drop earrings and there were so many to choose from!  With my love of history, it's probably not surprising that I love historically-inspired jewelry and so these are the ones I chose: Lucky Blossom Diamond Drop earrings. I love the art deco-ish design!

I received my earrings this weekend and the package was lovely. The earring box comes in a large blue box that just feels special. The earring box in itself is really wonderful: it's wood and has a small light that makes your jewelry glow. My sample earrings are silver and CZ but they are gorgeous and have a good weight to them. I have already worn them a couple days and got a lot of compliments on them. My earrings and many of the other designs come in different metals, different diamond weights, and different diamond qualities. The ability to customize your perfect piece of jewelry is really wonderful!

One of the things that I really like about Anjolee is not only is the jewelry gorgeous but they give you some nice options to make sure you get your perfect jewelry. For instance, you can virtually try on the jewelry using their 3D experience. Making a big purchase online can be a little scary but tools like this make it easier to ensure that you get something that you love! And if you don't, there is a great 30-day return policy! I am super happy with my earrings and I'm already eyeing my first real Anjolee piece!

Friday, May 3, 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 read books from this many countries this month:
You can check out my progress on my map or see a list of where and what I'm reading here.

I've read a total of 50 books so far for this challenge (over a quarter of the way through the challenge). Solid progression! This was my best month so far.

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

Thursday, May 2, 2019

Review: Unmarriageable by Soniah Kamal

Title: Unmarriageable
Author: Soniah Kamal
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: Balantine Books
Publish Date: January 22, 2019
Source: Library

What's the Story?:

From "A scandal and vicious rumor concerning the Binat family have destroyed their fortune and prospects for desirable marriages, but Alys, the second and most practical of the five Binat daughters, has found happiness teaching English literature to schoolgirls. Knowing that many of her students won't make it to graduation before dropping out to marry and have children, Alys teaches them about Jane Austen and her other literary heroes and hopes to inspire the girls to dream of more.

When an invitation arrives to the biggest wedding their small town has seen in years, Mrs. Binat, certain that their luck is about to change, excitedly sets to work preparing her daughters to fish for rich, eligible bachelors. On the first night of the festivities, Alys's lovely older sister, Jena, catches the eye of Fahad "Bungles" Bingla, the wildly successful—and single—entrepreneur. But Bungles's friend Valentine Darsee is clearly unimpressed by the Binat family. Alys accidentally overhears his unflattering assessment of her and quickly dismisses him and his snobbish ways. As the days of lavish wedding parties unfold, the Binats wait breathlessly to see if Jena will land a proposal—and Alys begins to realize that Darsee's brusque manner may be hiding a very different man from the one she saw at first glance."

My Two Cents:

"Unmarriageable" is the story of Alys Binat, a young woman who loves teaching young schoolgirls. She thinks that it might even be her calling even when her mother keeps pushing her to settle down and get married to someone. Alys has other ideas though and doesn't want to be tied down by marriage unless she meets the right man and then she still doesn't want to be tied down and still wants to have enough freedom to pursue her dreams. When she meets Valentine Darsee, he seems like the exact opposite of what she is looking for but we all know that looks can be deceiving. 

First things first, I love "Pride and Prejudice" retellings and I love when authors of these retellings can make the story feel fresh. "Unmarriageable" does both! This book is like having a cup of tea with a good friend who has a great new story to tell. This retelling is set in Pakistan (which fits perfectly into my Around the World challenge for this year) and I loved how the setting made this storyline feel very fresh. I don't know a lot about Pakistan and so I loved getting to know it a bit better through this book. 

I loved these characters! The way that the author was able to adapt the characteristics (and the names, which are so clever) from the original story into this book was really great! I loved the whole Binat family. The father is still stoic. The mother is still scheming, sometimes suffocating, and trying to find her daughters a love match. The daughters are all great in their own way and very much their own individual people. The relationship between Alys and Mr. Darsee is still very swoon-worthy.

This was a great read!

Thursday, April 25, 2019

Double Feature Review: Best Hikes Washington, D.C. and Best Hikes Baltimore

Titles: Best Hikes Washington, D.C. and Best Hikes Baltimore
Authors: Bill Burnham and Heather Connellee
Format: Paperback
Publisher: Falcon Press Publishing
Publish Date: April 1, 2019
Source: Publisher

What's the Story?:

From Goodreads for Washington, D.C.: "In Best Hikes Washington, DC authors Bill and Mary Burnham detail the best hikes within about an hour's drive of downtown, hikes perfect for the urban and suburbanite hard-pressed to find great outdoor activities close to home. Each featured hike includes detailed hike specs and descriptions, trailhead location and GPS coordinates, mile-by-mile directional cues, gorgeous full-color photography, and a detailed map."

From Goodreads for Baltimore: "It's not necessary to travel far from home for a great hike. With these information-packed guides in hand, readers have everything they need for the adventure they seek, from an easy nature walk to a multiday backpacking trip. Each hike includes: location, length, hiking time, level of difficulty, and if dogs can come along. Other features include: -Trail finder chart that categorizes each hike (e.g. for particular attractions such as scenic views and if it's suitable for families with kids) -Full-color photos throughout -Information on the area's history, geology, flora, and fauna -Full-color maps of each trail"

My Two Cents: 

Here in the DMV area, we often have very short springs. Cold, icy winters seem to melt into hot, sticky summers much too quickly. Luckily this year we are actually getting a real spring and it is making me want to get outside as much as I possibly can. These guides make me want to escape even more! Today, I am so happy to be able to introduce you to Falcon Press Publishing's "Best Hikes" series. I am reviewing both the guide for Washington, D.C. and Baltimore. These are fantastic guides that have full-color, lovely pictures, and easy to navigate maps.

I live outside of D.C. and went to college outside of Baltimore and still visit quite frequently. I also have the tendency to visit the same places over and over again when it comes to spending time outside with my family (I very much have a 'if it ain't broke, why fix it' mentality when it comes to exploring things). There are still so many places that I haven't explored! These books are definitely making me want to break out of that rut!

I love how easy these books make it to find really wonderful hikes that cater to all levels of hikers. I also really like the hints and tips sprinkled throughout the books - that's a really nice touch. I know these are going to be books that have a prominent place on my shelves that I revisit over and over again. These are also going to be the books that I thrust into the hands of anyone that comes to visit us and wonders how best to see all of the amazing places in this area! I know I definitely want to check out some of the other Best Hikes titles for places a little bit further from home! These are wonderful guides and now you can see exactly what I'll be doing with my family this spring and summer! 

Monday, April 22, 2019

Review: A Song for the Stars by Ilima Todd

Title: A Song for the Stars
Author: Ilima Todd
Format: Paperback
Publisher: Shadow Mountain
Publish Date: April 2, 2019
Source: Library

What's the Story?:

From "As the second daughter of a royal chief, Maile will be permitted to marry for love. Her fiancé is the best navigator in Hawaiʻi, and he taught her everything he knows—how to feel the ocean, observe the winds, read the stars, and how to love.
But when sailors from a strange place called England arrive on her island, a misunderstanding ends in battle, and Maile is suddenly widowed before she is wed.

Finding herself in the middle of the battle and fearing for her life, Maile takes John Harbottle, the wounded man who killed her fiancé, prisoner, and though originally intending to let him die, she reluctantly heals him. And in the process, she discovers the man she thought was her enemy might be her ally instead.
John has been Captain James Cook’s translator for three voyages across the Pacific. He is kind and clearly fascinated with her homeland and her people—and Maile herself. But guilt continues to drive a wedge between them: John’s guilt over the death he caused, and Maile’s guilt over the truth about what triggered the deadly battle—a secret she’s kept hidden from everyone on the island.
When Maile is tasked with teaching John how to navigate using the stars so he can sail back to England, they must also navigate the challenges of being from very different cultures. In doing so, they might also find the peace that comes when two hearts become one."

My Two Cents:

"A Song for the Stars" is the story of Maile, daughter of a Hawaiian chief, and John, the translator for the famous Captain James Cook. Both of them are from very different worlds with very different cultures. At first, neither one really understands each other. Through a series of events and misunderstandings, they are thrown together in ways that they can't begin to understand. 

The relationship between Maile and John was so interesting to watch unfold. Both of them start out knowing nothing about each other's culture at all so they teach each other. Neither one of them can believe that they're forming a tenuous friendship (but a friendship nonetheless) with each other. It will astonish their family and friends and it may even push them away but they can't help it. I really liked the addition of John's journal entries, which give us a lot of insight into what he's feeling and going through at different parts in the book.

The book takes place in the late 1700s when European explorers roamed the earth finding "new" lands. I loved all of the detail that the author infused into the story. I love reading about Hawaii - it truly has amazing history but I think this might be one of the first books that I have ever read that was set during this time period. I love how the author captured the friction between the Hawaiians and the Europeans. 

Overall, this was an interesting read with a lot of good detail!

Friday, April 19, 2019

Review: Button and Bundle by Gretchen Brandenburg McLellan

Title: Button and Bundle
Author: Gretchen Brandenburg McLellan
Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf
Publish Date: February 19. 2019
Source: Publisher

What's the Story?:

From "Button and Bundle are best friends. So are their dolls.

But when Button has to move away, she's sad and lonely without Bundle.

Until one day, Button finds a single yellow balloon and an idea. With a little luck, maybe she can reunite Bundle with their dolls again!

Knowing that her faraway friend would be happy is the happiest idea of all."

My Two Cents:

"Button and Bundle" is a cute story about two best friends named Button and Bundle. They play with their dolls together. They go on adventures together. They are best friends forever. When Button moves away, both girls are broken-hearted but with a bit of music and a bit of magic they can move forward. 

Moving is hard no matter how old you are. It is especially hard for little kids. This book is all about that. Leaving friends is fraught with so many emotions. Will you make new friends? Will you remember your old friends? Will they remember you? This book explores all of these thoughts in an easy to understand way for a younger audience. I loved the metaphor of music throughout the book: first in Button and Bundle's song and then their song weaving through Button's song with her new friend. It's really beautiful!

The illustrations are so charming. The colors are lovely and pastel and very calming! My girls loved the pictures of the friends and their dolls. This was a great story and it would be particularly good for little ones going through a move of their own or a move of their friends!

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Review: The Storyteller by Pierre Jarawan

Title: The Storyteller
Author: Pierre Jarawan
Format: ARC
Publisher: World Editions
Publish Date: April 2, 2019
Source: Publisher

What's the Story?:

From "Samir leaves the safety and comfort of his family’s adopted home in Germany for volatile Beirut in an attempt to find his missing father. His only clues are an old photo and the bedtime stories his father used to tell him. The Storyteller follows Samir’s search for Brahim, the father whose heart was always yearning for his homeland, Lebanon."

My Two Cents:

"The Storyteller" is the story of Samir, who mostly grew up in Germany after his family leaves war-torn Lebanon. He grows up hearing stories of the family's homeland. His father is especially good at telling these stories. When a mysterious photograph seemingly causes the disappearance of his father, it will eventually send Samir on a journey back to Lebanon, a place where he now feels totally out of place, to search for his father.

Oh man, you all know that I love a good family secret and this book definitely has a huge one. I don't want to give anything away but the mystery of what happened to Samir's father is oh so good and definitely kept me reading to try to figure out what happened. The author does a great job of giving out small hints to keep you wanting to read.

This book also has a really good sense of setting. I loved reading about Germany and Lebanon through the eyes of these characters. We get to see how the family adapts to their new home in Germany and how Samir's father goes out of his way to make conversation with everyone he meets, always making people feel welcome even when their new home is not so welcoming always to his family. I loved reading about Lebanon, both the myth in Samir's father's mind and the reality that Samir experiences when he sees the country for himself.

The writing of this book was so good! The descriptions are almost lyrical and really lovely to read. I especially appreciated the descriptions when reading Samir's father's stories. The descriptions really made the story pop. Overall, this was a great story that will stick with me for a long time!

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Review: Maid: Hard Work, Low Pay, and a Mother's Will to Survive by Stephanie Land

Title: Maid: Hard Work, Low Pay, and a Mother's Will to Survive
Author: Stephanie Land 
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: Hachette Books
Publish Date: January 22, 2019
Source: Library

What's the Story?:

From "While the gap between upper middle-class Americans and the working poor widens, grueling low-wage domestic and service work--primarily done by women--fuels the economic success of the wealthy. Stephanie Land worked for years as a maid, pulling long hours while struggling as a single mom to keep a roof over her daughter's head. In Maid, she reveals the dark truth of what it takes to survive and thrive in today's inequitable society.

While she worked hard to scratch her way out of poverty as a single parent, scrubbing the toilets of the wealthy, navigating domestic labor jobs, higher education, assisted housing, and a tangled web of government assistance, Stephanie wrote. She wrote the true stories that weren't being told. The stories of overworked and underpaid Americans."

My Two Cents:

"Maid" is a memoir by Stephanie Land. It's about her life trying to make her way on minimum wage jobs, specifically as a maid. This is an eye-opening memoir about how hard it is to get by on a minimum wage job. There have been a lot of books that have come out recently that have tried to shed light on the plight of so many Americans that are trying to hold down a few jobs just to get by. Barbara Ehrenreich's "Nickel and Dimed" comes to mind and Ehrenreich actually wrote the foreword to this book. While this book was interesting, I wish it had been tied together a little more tightly in the end.

We get to see how difficult things are for Stephanie as she tries to take care of her young daughter. Childcare alone is incredibly daunting in this country but Stephanie has to worry a lot more about other things like bills and food. She has to navigate a bunch of confusing government subsidies in order to make ends meet. The companies that she works for seem to worry more about the labor than the actual people that work for them a lot of times. 

This book is very much a personal memoir about one single person's plight. It is powerful but feels simply anecdotal. What I mean by that is that it seems to be one person's experience and I wish that it would have had a higher-level connection or a more universal message. Maybe it is a lot to ask about what to do but I was hoping for something more prescriptive with the connection to "Nickel and Dimed." I liked this book but wanted a little more!

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