Thursday, May 31, 2012

Read-Along: The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett

Title: The Secret Garden
Author: Frances Hodgson Burnett
Format: Ebook
Publisher: Harper Trophy (100 year Anniversary book)
Publish Date: First published in 1911
Source: Owned

Why Are You Reading This Book:

  • You're a classic lover.
  • You're looking to get in touch with your inner child.
What's the Story?:

From "Neglected Colin lives the life of a spoilt and incurable invalid until on the arrival of an orphaned cousin, the two children secretly combine to restore his mother's locked garden and Colin to health and his father's affection."

My Two Cents: 

One thing that I love about read-a-longs is that often times they give me a chance to either read a book I've been meaning to read or to re-read an old favorite. In the case of The Secret Garden, this is an old favorite. I never owned a copy of this book as a little one but I checked it out frequently from the library. I also really loved the movie that came out in the early 90s (is there anyone else out there that remembers the movie?).

This book was a joy to re-read. The story is very sweet. It's been a long time since I read this book so I had forgotten the order of how things happened and how the book ended. I loved being back with Dickon, my favorite character in the book (how cool would it be to be able to tame wild animals? Hah, that would be a childhood dream come true for me).

There is a good reason that this story is a classic and is still so beloved by so many. If you've read it already, read it again. I know you'll find more to love. If you haven't read it, you definitely need to read it next time you're looking for a lighter read!


Wednesday, May 30, 2012

TLC Book Tour Stop: State of Wonder by Ann Patchett

Title: State of Wonder
Author: Ann Patchett
Format: Paperback
Publisher: Harper Perennial
Publish Date: June 7, 2011
Source: TLC Book Tours

Why You're Reading This Book:

  • You like contemporary fiction.
  • You're an armchair travel.
What's the Story?:

From " As Dr. Marina Singh embarks upon an uncertain odyssey into the insect-infested Amazon, she will be forced to surrender herself to the lush but forbidding world that awaits within the jungle. Charged with finding her former mentor Dr. Annick Swenson, a researcher who has disappeared while working on a valuable new drug, she will have to confront her own memories of tragedy and sacrifice as she journeys into the unforgiving heart of darkness. Stirring and luminous, State of Wonder is a world unto itself, where unlikely beauty stands beside unimaginable loss beneath the rain forest's jeweled canopy."

My Two Cents: 

I've had my eye on this book for awhile so I was really glad that I finally got a chance to sit down and enjoy it. Patchett weaves a web of characters that all seem brought together for the main character, Marina, to finally realize some of life's truths that don't really come so easily to all of us.

I liked Marina, the main character, but I think that I may have enjoyed reading about Dr. Annick Swenson before. She's a really interesting character. She seems to move through the world with the utmost efficiency. When it comes to morals, she's sort of a mixed bag, I thought. There is one huge twist (and no, I won't give it away) in the book regarding Annick's research in the rainforest. It was shocking that someone could do that supposedly in the name of science; there had to be another way!

I loved the setting of the book too: the Amazon rainforest. I think that if I were a scientist, that would have to be one of the coolest places to do work even if it is dangerous. And it's very dangerous as the reader can see from the characters' encounters with an anaconda. I think I'm probably going to have nightmares about that part of the book for a long time. Even that scene serves a purpose though. I thought Patchett did a great job of pulling together all of the different events in the book that at first seemed to have no real connection into something bigger. It was almost as if Marina was going through some sort of spiritual awakening.

Notable Quote:
"But we cannot unbraid the story of another person's life and take out all the parts that don't suit our purposes and put forth only the ones that do." - Ann Patchett, "State of Wonder"

Bottom line: This is the kind of book that takes a little bit of warming up to before it really takes off. Once it takes off, it's worth hanging around for.

Don't Forget to Follow the Rest of the Tour:

Tuesday, May 8th: Unabridged Chick
Wednesday, May 9th: Take Me Away
Monday, May 14th: Proud Book Nerd
Tuesday, May 15th: Tiramisu Mom
Wednesday, May 16th: Jo-Jo Loves to Read!
Friday, May 18th: No More Grumpy Bookseller
Monday, May 21st: The Adventures of an Intrepid Reader
Tuesday, May 22nd: Lit and Life
Wednesday, May 23rd: Shall Write
Thursday, May 24th: Kritters Ramblings
Monday, May 28th: Stiletto Storytime
Wednesday, May 30th: A Bookish Affair
Thursday, May 31st: Paperback Princess
Thursday, June 7th: Dolce Bellezza
Monday, June 11th: Tina’s Book Reviews
Tuesday, June 12th: Amused By Books
Thursday, June 14th: missris
Friday, June 15th: My Bookshelf
Monday, June 18th: A Library of My Own
Tuesday, June 19th: The Scarlet Letter
Wednesday, June 27th: Man of La Book
TBD: Book Him Danno!


Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Ebooks From the Library?

This morning, I read a really good article about ebook lending from the library on InReads. It definitely made me think a little bit. I'm relatively new to checking out ebooks from the library but I think it's really a neat concept. One reason that I haven't delved into checking out ebooks too much is that I really, really enjoy going to the library. I currently live about a mile away from the nearest library so I can take a nice, leisurely walk, pick out some really good books, and walk home. I've never found having to go to the library to be an inconvenience.

If you're reading this blog, you're probably a book lover too and so I'm sure you all feel the same way too. But every once in awhile, when I need a new book and I can't get to the library right away, it's nice to have the ebook lending option. As the InReads article points out, publishers may not be too happy with this option for several reasons; the largest reason having to do with a loss of revenue. While I think book costs are too high, I do understand that publishers are first and foremost businesses and in order to stay in business, you have to make money. Some publishers have even restricted ebook lending totally (for shame).

I just don't see how ebook lending from the library is going to make all that big of impact on the publishers' bottom lines. If I didn't use the library, I would be broke with as much as I read. The last time I bought a book without using a gift certificate was probably at least 6 months ago. I know a lot of other people though who, when they want a book, go to the bookstore and browse and buy rather than locating a book at their local library for free. I am not sure that limiting or opening ebook lending from the library would do much to change those people's habits.

I guess one of the best solutions that some publishers have adopted is to force a library to re-buy an ebook after a certain number of check-outs. It isn't ideal for readers or for libraries (which have obviously been affected by budget cuts) but I guess it does help the publishers and it may open up more publishers to trying the ebook lending option.

What say you?

Don't forget about all the great giveaways going on right now on ABA:

Win an ebook copy of The Skin of Water by G.S. Johnston! Open internationally!

Win a copy of I am Forbidden by Anouk Markovits!

Win a copy of Wife 22 by Melanie Gideon!

Review and G!ve@way: Wife 22 by Melanie Gideon

Title: Wife 22
Author: Melanie Gideon
Format: ARC
Publisher: Random House
Publish Date: May 29, 2012 (Today!)
Source: I received a copy from the PR. This did not affect my review.

Why You're Reading This Book:
  • You like contemporary fiction.
  • You like witty writing.
  • You're looking for a book that has a little bit of a lesson.
What's the Story?:

For fans of Helen Fielding’s Bridget Jones’s Diary and Allison Pearson’s I Don’t Know How She Does It comes an irresistible novel of a woman losing herself . . . and finding herself again . . . in the middle of her life.

When Alice Buckle, who has been married to William for nearly twenty years, receives a survey in her e-mail from the Netherfield Center for the Study of Marital Happiness, she is in the doldrums. She loves her husband but they've grown distant, she is bored with her job, and her adolescent children need her less now. And she has reached the age at which her mother died. So as she idly begins answering the questions, she finds herself baring her soul in an anonymous survey she never even intended to respond to. As she struggles, she realizes it has been years since anyone asked deep, serious questions of her, and really listened to her answers. Soon her entire life as she knows it is called into question.

My Two Cents:

I loved this book a lot. This was the first book that I had read by Melanie Gideon but I think I will be reading more by her in the future. The writing is really funny (a book that can make me laugh out loud is a good one in my book) and witty. Gideon also gets you really attached to the characters. I loved the main character, Alice. She's really a full character and one that you feel could be in your own life.

I also really like how the book was interspersed with Alice's answers to the question, the Facebook posts, and the Google searches. All of these things give you more detail about all of the various characters in the book, which was really cool. It was a really interesting device to give you a flavor of who the characters are and what they're thinking about.

This book is geared for people a little bit older than I am; Alice and her husband have been married for 20 years. I've been married for two years. Yet, I think there's a lot that I took away from the book. Aside from being funny, the book has a good message, which is that you shouldn't take your loved ones for granted. I could see how easy that might be to do. You always think that you're going to have that person around so it's easy to just see them as something ordinary rather than really special. It's easy to forget that relationships need care and keeping just as we humans do. Relationships are work but if you're willing to put in the time, you can have something really magical. It takes a long time for Alice to realize this but she does eventually.

I will admit that I did see the major twist (I won't tell you all what it was because you all just really need to read this book) towards the end but because I wanted it to happen so badly, I was not sad at all that I had guessed what was going to happen.

Bottom line: This is another good summer read!

Book Trailer:

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Monday, May 28, 2012

Review: Gone to Flowers by C.M. Barrett

Title: Gone to Flowers
Author: C.M. Barrett
Format: Ebook
Publisher: Self-published
Publish Date: January 23, 2012
Source: I received a copy from the author. This did not affect my review.

Why You're Reading This Book:
  • You are looking for more recent historical fiction.
  • You don't mind a lot of characters. 
  • You like getting inside a character's head.
What's the Story?:

From "In Gone to Flowers, young people leave New York City in 1968 to live together on a rural commune.

Eli, hoping to conquer his fear of intimacy by moving in with seven other people, finds peace in the communal garden but can't make love blossom.

Mary casts off casual sex and avoids the potential prison of marriage and motherhood until her feelings for a bisexual man make vows of celibacy look like the worst idea since Selective Service.

Though Amethyst's parents tell her she can only be safe among Jewish people, she is determined to free herself of their fears. A master chef, she discovers some dangerous ingredients in her recipe for romance when her parents disown her.

Michael, a former junkie, envisions communal life as a permanent party with himself as host. He shakes his addiction to control others, but when he loses control of his libido, he risks his marriage.

Against the background of Vietnam, the Chicago Democratic Convention, Woodstock, My Lai, and Kent State, they pursue their visions. The snake in this fragile Eden, a seductive and disturbed teenager, brings their individual and collective vulnerabilities to the surface and thwarts their efforts to be true to themselves and each other."

My Two Cents: 

While this book takes place in the late 1960s and early 1970s, it is less a historical fiction book than a story of people that just happens to take place in a past time period. What's the difference between those two for me? Historical fiction to me tends to have a heavier focus on events going on and how the characters in the book are affected by said events. In Gone to Flowers, we get a flavor of that. The characters are aware of what's going on in the world and they live on a hippie commune that they created themselves but the events of the time are not really in the forefront of the minds of the characters. It's more background music for each of their individual stories. In this case, it works very well as this is a very character centric book.

All of the characters in the book are fairly young and idealistic. We live in very different times now (the characters are not much younger than I am now) so it was interesting to see how each character coped with their situation in a different way. Because the book is so character centric, you do get to see their inner thoughts and where they are coming from, which is nice.

There are a lot of main characters in this book and I found myself getting all of the stories straight. There are also a lot of minor characters to keep track of. I also found it difficult to distinguish between the "voices" of the different characters, which added to the difficulty in keeping track of things. I had to keep flipping back and forth (one downside to e-reading is that flipping takes a long time) in order to make sure that I was remembering correctly who did or said what.

Bottom line: This is a good book for anyone that loves knowing what a character is thinking at all times.


Sunday, May 27, 2012

Review: Dog is My Co-Pilot by Patrick Regan

Title: Dog is My Co-Pilot
Author: Patrick Regan
Format: Ebook
Publisher: Andrews McMeel Publishing
Publish Date: June 19, 2012
Source: Netgalley

Why You're Reading This Book:

  • You're an animal lover.
  • You're looking for a warm story.
  • You have an interest in flying.
What's the Story?:

From "Dog Is My Copilot tells the story of Pilots N Paws, a high-flying animal-rescue operation founded "accidentally" in 2008 when a private pilot offered to fly a mission of mercy to save an abused dog for a friend. Once on the ground, the pilot asked his friend if there was a big need to transport shelter animals from one part of the country to another. She responded, "You have no idea." Since that time, Pilots N Paws has grown to include thousands of pilots who have transported tens of thousands of "death-row dogs" (and a fair amount of cats and other animals), sometimes more than 1,000 miles away to new homes or no-kill shelters, where they have a much higher chance of adoption."

My Two Cents:

This story is both about the Pilots N' Paws program and the stories of many of the dogs (and some of the other creatures) that this program has transported. The Pilots N' Paws organization is a volunteer based organization where pilots fly mostly dogs but other animals in need from high threat shelters to rescues or even to owners sometimes.

I had first heard of the organization when my husband's cousins did a couple transports. I thought it was so cool that these pilots would take the time to do something like that. My husband's cousin and his girlfriend actually adopted a dog from the program, which is super cool. And their dog is so awesome that it makes the program just that much more awesome.

Although the book is about the organization, it is mostly the stories of the various rescues that the program has done and therefore is probably more fitting for animal lovers than pilots perhaps. Each chapter covers a different rescue. Some of the rescues are funny like the one where this pilot gets stuck flying four very naughty dogs. Some are really touching like the ones about some special needs animals that find their "furever" home. I also really liked the stories and the pictures of some of the stranger animals that the program has rescued. Snakes on a plane? Yes, in this book there are most definitely snakes on a plane.

Bottom line: This is a great book for any animal lover. This is definitely a cool organization with a great mission and a great story!


Saturday, May 26, 2012

Review: Scarlett Fever by Maureen Johnson

Title: Scarlett Fever
Author: Maureen Johnson
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: Scholastic Point
Publish Date: February 1, 2010
Source: Library

Why You're Reading This Book:

  • You're a young adult fiction fan.
  • You're looking for a light, fun read.
 What's the Story?:

From "Ever since Mrs. Amberson, the former-aspiring-actress-turned-agent, entered Scarlett Martin's life, nothing has been the same.

She's still in charge of the Empire Suite in her family's hotel, but she's now also Mrs. Amberson's assistant, running around town for her star client, Chelsea - a Broadway star Scarlett's age with a knack for making her feel insignificant.

Scarlett's also trying to juggle sophomore year classes, her lab partner who is being just a little TOO nice, and getting over the boy who broke her heart.

In the midst of all this, her parents drop a bombshell that threatens to change her New York life forever..."

My Two Cents:

This book is the sequel to Suite Scarlett, which I read a couple months ago. While I don't think it's absolutely necessary to read the first book, I think you'll have a much more enjoyable experience if you do. What I mean by that is that you won't be confused necessarily if you just read this book but Suite Scarlett is such a fun book that I think you'll be sad if you don't read it as well.

The book picks right up where the first book left off. Suite Scarlett didn't really have a cliffhanger at the end so it's easy to jump right in to the second book as if it's a different episode in the life of Scarlett and her crazy family and not really a direct continuation of Suite Scarlett. I sort of like books like that. I loved the characters so much in Suite Scarlett that I was excited to get back to them. It's so nice when you feel that way about characters, no?

I love Johnson's writing style and know that I will be on the look out for more of her books.

This is a fun read, perfect for when the weather is a little warmer and you need a light read.


Friday, May 25, 2012

Book Blogger Hop

Book Blogger Hop
Click on the picture to join in the fun!

This week's question: How do you handle the writing of a negative review?

I would say since starting this blog, I've become a lot more picky about what I read since I have a lot of blogging obligations. I don't like writing negative reviews but in the slight chance that I do, I have a couple rules I follow:

1. I try to be clear on why I didn't like the book.
2. I usually try to think of others who might like the book.
3. I never attack the author. 
4. I try to give constructive criticism.

I try to follow these rules so that even if I didn't like the book, I'm fair.

What say you?

Review: Along for the Ride by Sarah Dessen

Title: Along for the Ride
Author: Sarah Dessen
Format: Hardback
Publisher: Viking Juvenile
Publish Date: June 16, 2009
Source: Library

Why You're Reading This Book:
  • You're a young adult fiction fan.
  • You're looking for a book that discusses issues.
What's the Story?:

From "It’s been so long since Auden slept at night. Ever since her parents’ divorce—or since the fighting started. Now she has the chance to spend a carefree summer with her dad and his new family in the charming beach town where they live.

A job in a clothes boutique introduces Auden to the world of girls: their talk, their friendship, their crushes. She missed out on all that, too busy being the perfect daughter to her demanding mother. Then she meets Eli, an intriguing loner and a fellow insomniac who becomes her guide to the nocturnal world of the town. Together they embark on parallel quests: for Auden, to experience the carefree teenage life she’s been denied; for Eli, to come to terms with the guilt he feels for the death of a friend."

My Two Cents:

This will be my third Sarah Dessen book. I can definitely see why she's such a big young adult author. Her writing is great. The story lines really pull you in and all of the characters are memorable and really well written.

Along for the Ride is a good story. Auden, the main character, has always felt like she had to be the grown-up in her family. I really liked her character. She's definitely one of those people that holds it all in even when they feel like the world is falling apart. I could see a lot of myself in her. Both of her parents, who are professors, think very highly of themselves and are almost snobbish about their achievements. Auden's brother has been free to roam around the world without any real direction. Because of those things, Auden has felt like she's the one that has to stay grounded and serious. She hasn't gotten out much because of that.

On a whim, she goes to visit her father and her super young stepmother who have just had a new baby. She discovers some of the things that she's missed out on because she's been so super serious and feeling like she had to pick up the slack. She's still reeling from all of the changes happening in her life (her parents divorce, her baby stepsister, etc.) but the people she meets and the places she goes really begin to change her perspective over the summer.

One thing that I really like about Dessen's books is that they don't seem to suffer from some of the typical issues in young adult books (disappearing parent syndrome, etc.). She tells really good stories about the interconnections between all of the characters in her book. It's so awesome to see the web she weaves.

Bottom line: This is a great young adult read. 


Thursday, May 24, 2012

Splash Into Summer Hop!

I'm participating in the Splash into Summer Giveaway Hop. There are over 200 blogs in this giveaway hop. Don't forget to check out the rest of the blogs here!

One lucky winner (US only) will win a copy of Her Sister's Shadow by Katharine Britton.

Synopsis from "Renowned painter Lilli Niles is at home in her North London flat when she receives an unexpected call from her elder sister, Bea, who's at the family homestead in Whitehead, Massachusetts. Bea's husband has just died, and she'd like Lilli to fly home to attend the funeral. There are reasons Lilli moved all the way to England to escape her older sister, reasons that have kept them estranged for decades. But something in Bea's voice makes Lilli think it's time to return to the stately house in New England she loved as a child, to the memory of the beloved younger sister they both lost. With Bea more fragile than Lilli remembered, maybe she can finally forgive Bea for a long-ago betrayal that has simmered between them for nearly forty years."

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Review: American Dervish by Ayad Akhtar

Title: American Dervish
Author: Ayad Akhtar
Format: Hardback
Publisher: Little, Brown, and Company
Publish Date: January 9, 2012
Source: Library

Why You're Reading This Book:
  • You don't mind a book that covers heavy topics.
  • You like books about different cultures.
What's the Story?:

From "Hayat Shah is a young American in love for the first time. His normal life of school, baseball, and video games had previously been distinguished only by his Pakistani heritage and by the frequent chill between his parents, who fight over things he is too young to understand. Then Mina arrives, and everything changes.

Mina is Hayat's mother's oldest friend from Pakistan. She is independent, beautiful and intelligent, and arrives on the Shah's doorstep when her disastrous marriage in Pakistan disintegrates. Even Hayat's skeptical father can't deny the liveliness and happiness that accompanies Mina into their home. Her deep spirituality brings the family's Muslim faith to life in a way that resonates with Hayat as nothing has before. Studying the Quran by Mina's side and basking in the glow of her attention, he feels an entirely new purpose mingled with a growing infatuation for his teacher.

When Mina meets and begins dating a man, Hayat is confused by his feelings of betrayal. His growing passions, both spiritual and romantic, force him to question all that he has come to believe is true. Just as Mina finds happiness, Hayat is compelled to act -- with devastating consequences for all those he loves most."

My Two Cents:

Hayat is in the stage of his life where he is just beginning to understand adult relationships. In many ways, he was still a child. He doesn't understand that sometimes trying to get what we want and trying to help other people (if done in the wrong way) can have ill-effects for those that we are trying to help. Sometimes the bad outweighs the good. I think that a lot of times, it takes us a really long time to understand that and to really understand all of the implications that go along with those decisions.

I also liked the aspect of the differences and clashes of culture. It definitely made for a very interesting story. Hayat wants to totally memorize the Qur'an after Mina, his mother's best friend who comes to live with Hayat's family. He's learning it all in English as it is the language that he knows. This plays in heavily into the book (and that's all I'll say since I don't want to give anything else away).

Hayat also an All American boy. His parents have both embraced American culture and have opened that up to their son. Mina, coming straight from Pakistan where she is technically still married, is struggling in her own way and almost passes that on to Hayat in a way. It's a complicated web. Hayat is struggling with his identity in a big way. He's trying to find his footing between where his family came from and where his family is now.

I thought this was a great book about the struggle we all go through when we're pre-teens. We all just want to know who we're supposed to be.


Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Review: Scalp Mountain by Julia Robb

Title: Scalp Mountain
Author: Julia Robb
Format: Ebook
Publisher: Self-published
Publish Date: February 19, 2012
Source: I received a copy from the author. This did not affect my review.

Why You're Reading This Book:
  • You're a historical fiction fan.
What's the Story?:

From "It’s 1876 at Scalp Mountain and Colum McNeal is fleeing gunmen sent by his Irish-immigrant father. Colum pioneers a Texas ranch, a home which means everything to him, but struggles to stay there: José Ortero, a Jacarilla Apache, seeks revenge for the son Colum unwittingly killed.

At the same time, an old acquaintance, Mason Lohman, obsessively stalks Colum through the border country, planning to take his life. Colum has inspired the unthinkable in Lohman. In a time and place where a man’s sexuality must stand unchallenged, Colum has ignited Lohman’s desire.
Other characters include Texas Ranger William Henry, who takes Colum’s part against his father while wrestling with his own demons. Henry’s family was murdered by Comanches and he regrets the revenge he took; and Clementine Weaver, who defies frontier prejudice by adopting an Indian baby, must choose between Colum and her husband.

Scalp Mountain is based on the Southern Plains’ Indian Wars.

Those wars were morally complex, and the novel attempts to reflect those profound, tragic and murderous complications.

Everyone was right, everyone was wrong, everyone got hurt."

My Two Cents:

I love historical fiction but I can get tired of reading about the same places, people and events over and over again. I love when an author can take me to a new place and time. Julia Robb does just that with Scalp Mountain. The author takes us to late 1800s Texas and the surrounding areas. At that point in time, the middle part of the country was still wild. The white people who ventured out west from the East Coast were often the only people of their race for a long time. To say that there was tension between these white settlers and the Native Americans, who had been forced on to reservations by then, would be a complete understatement.

The book is really about the struggle between the white settlers and the Native Americans. I thought that Robb did a good job of making the reader feel the plight of both the white settlers and the Native Americans although the books mostly focuses on the white settlers and is therefore more sympathetic towards them.

I really liked the descriptions of life out on the frontier. There was so much going on, especially for poor Colum, one of the main characters in the book. His father sent a gunman after him after he thinks that Colum killed his own brother. Colum is also trying to flee the Native Americans. He leads an exciting life to say the least.

I also really liked Clementine's story. She is definitely a woman before her time. She's strong and resourceful and she doesn't worry too, too much about what other people say about her. She adopts a Native American child after he's found. This doesn't make her too popular with the other women around but she becomes completely dedicated to her son, James.

This is a good story about the not so pretty history of our country told in such a way that it will grab you and hold on to you until the very last page.


Tuesday, May 22, 2012

As the Blog Turns

This morning, I made an executive decision and decisions do not come easily to me so this is very exciting. I've decided not to accept books for all of August.

I've been sort of overwhelmed with all of the review requests I've been getting. Here's the problem: I love doing these reviews and reading books that may not yet be known by a wider audience but it's a lot of work. On top of that, my TBR list just keeps growing and growing and I haven't been able to do much of anything about it. I have stacks and stacks of books that have been on the TBR for a ridiculous amount of time. I'm posting new reviews almost everyday for books that I've been solicited to review (#bookbloggerproblems, I know) and I'm booked through July.

So as of right now, I'll finish my obligations for July and then I'll have all of August to read and review what I want to read when I want to read it! Guys, I joined a TBR challenge at the beginning of the year and since you can't count library books, I am seriously failing! I need to get on that.

Here's how I hope I'm feeling in September:

So, what do you all do when you get overwhelmed?

Literary Locale: Budapest, Hungary

Literary Locale is a weekly feature here on A Bookish Affair where I talk about book settings, where I'm reading all of those wonderful books and just about anything in between. Feel free to grab the logo and join in the fun. I'd love to see where you're reading.

Yesterday, I reviewed a book that took place in Budapest, Hungary (The Skin of Water by G.S. Johnston). Most of my personal bucket list revolves around traveling. Budapest is high on my list of places to visit! It just seems like a perfect place to hang out and take in the sites. The Skin of Water really made me want to visit this gorgeous place!

Photo Credit

I'm picturing myself on the banks of the Danube now (maybe I'd find a good place to lay down and read).

Photo Credit
Or maybe I would just spend a week in the hot baths!

Where are you reading?

Monday, May 21, 2012

Review and G!ve@way: The Skin of Water by G.S. Johnston

Title: The Skin of Water
Author: G.S. Johnston
Format: Ebook
Publisher: Self-published
Publish Date: January 23, 2012
Source: I received a copy from the author. This did not affect my review.

Why You're Reading This Book:
  • You're a historical fiction fan.
  • You like a good love story.
What's the Story?:

From "Passions flare and alliances shift in this breathtaking story of survival set during the final days of World War II in Hungary.

Young Zeno dreams of moving to Budapest and becoming a great filmmaker in the Hungarian film studios. But one evening he follows Catherine Steiner, a guest at the exclusive lakeside resort where he works as a bellboy, into the forest. Unknowingly he dives into her life, changing his forever.

Her husband is a wealthy industrialist with the power to create – or crush – Zeno. Despite Catherine’s protests, Zeno moves to Budapest and takes a servant’s job in the Steiner house, shining her husband’s shoes while hearing the family’s secrets.

All Zeno and Catherine have are precious hours in a secret apartment, tucked above the uneasy streets of a city at war, their affair a flimsy wall against a future no one can see or predict. Until it arrives."

My Two Cents:

I love books that take me to new places. This book takes us to Budapest, Hungary, a city that I have romanticized in my head and someplace that I really hope to visit someday. This is a historical fiction book that takes place during World War II. I know what you all are thinking! Oh man, not another World War II historical fiction. But you all want to read this book. We are still fascinated by World War II because so much of what happened in the aftermath still shapes our world almost 70 years later.

This is also a love story. Zeno, as a very young man, has a chance meeting with Catherine, who is hiding secrets of her own. They fall in love under the shadow of the Nazis spreading their hate all across the continent. Catherine's secrets begin to unravel while Zeno seems to have to become wiser than his years really quickly. I really liked all of the twists and turns that Johnston lays down for the reader. A lot of them I didn't see coming (I love a good surprise).

I also thought it was especially interesting to see the choices that Catherine makes. They aren't choices that I would necessarily make but you can see why Catherine chooses to do the things that she does. I liked that her choices seemed so real.

The end definitely surprised me. I don't want to give anything away but I really thought the ending was perfect for this book!

Bottom line: This is a great historical fiction with lots of twists and turns.

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Diamond Jubilee Hop G!ve@way!

This year, Queen Elizabeth II celebrates 60 years on the throne. She is the second longest serving British monarch (only Queen Victoria had her beat). Romance at Random wants to celebrate with you all by hosting a blog hop.

I'm so happy to be a part of this hop. I will be giving away a signed copy of The Sister Queens by Sophie Perinot with a little bit of swag.

Romance at Random is also giving away a bunch of prizes too to celebrate!

How to enter my giveaway!:
a Rafflecopter giveaway

How to enter the big Romance at Random Giveaway!:
a Rafflecopter giveaway

Don't forget to visit the other stops in the Diamond Jubilee Hop:

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Review: Sleepers by Megg Jensen

Title: Sleepers
Author: Megg Jensen
Format: Ebook
Publisher: DarkSide Publishing
Publish Date: July 21, 2011
Source: I received a copy from the author. This did not affect my review.

Why You're Reading This Book:
  • You're a paranormal romance fan.
  • You like good world-building.
What's the Story?:

From "An adoptee raised in a foreign land, sixteen-year-old Lianne was content with her life as handmaiden to the queen, until a spell cast on her at birth activated. Now she's filled with uncontrollable rage and access to magic she thought had been bled from her people years ago. Even her years of secret training in elite hand-to-hand combat and meditation can’t calm the fires raging inside her.

Her heart is torn between two boys, the one she’s always loved and the one who always ignored her. But when the kingdom threatens to tear itself apart due to rumors surrounding the queen’s alleged affair, who will Lianne protect and who will she destroy?"

My Two Cents:

Sleepers is sort of a paranormal book that feels like it could be set in a different time. The book takes place in a world with two warring groups of people. Lianne is a member of one group who was adopted by the other group along with two other members of her own group. She grows up knowing that she is different and she knows about the other group that she originally came from.

I liked the book and flew through it quickly. I'm looking forward to reading the second book in the trilogy, Afterlife. That being said, there were a couple things that I would have like to see done differently in the book. First, I would have liked to see the love triangle built up a little more. Lianne seems to change her affections overnight and I wanted to see more development of the story to set it apart from the love triangles that seem to be so prevalent in so many young adult books. It just sort of fell flat for me here. I wanted to understand more about what was going on. My feeling is that you can do something that has been done before but there should be an added flavor.

I was intrigued by the world building and hope that there is more of that in the coming books. I thought Jensen did a good job of making me feel like I could see what was going on in Lianne's world.

Bottom line: a solid book for the paranormal or young adult fiction lover.


Saturday, May 19, 2012

Movie Review: Norman Mailer - The American

Norman Mailer was most famous for being a writer although he did many different things in his life. He wrote over forty books in his lifetime, which is most definitely a massive feat. He was a fascinating person and through this movie, you can definitely see why so many still consider him larger than life. He's funny and witty and has a splash of craziness (he takes drugs, he stabs his wife) that only serves to make him even more fascinating. On the matter of Mailer stabbing his second wife (the man was married 6 times! Oh my!), Adele, it was so interesting to hear from his daughter about how she and his other children sort of made peace with their father stabbing their mother. It's definitely one of the crazier parts of the movie; although there are a lot of crazy parts. I can't think of You almost can't turn away from the screen because you're so wrapped up in his sort of insanity. Does madness breed genius?

The documentary draws on interviews with Norman Mailer and those that knew him best. The documentary includes his lovers and his children. Each person has a different picture of Mailer and they add up to one really full picture that gives you a great sense of who he actually was as a person. It also helps that in the interviews with him in the movie are fully candid. How often do we get to hear from a great American writer like Mailer? Not often enough, to be sure.

While I have never read any of Mailer's books (this must change soon) and only some of his smaller pieces, this movie definitely draws you in to Mailer's story and life. One thing that you really get to see is how real Mailer was. He never hid anything and he was up front and uncensored about almost everything in the world. He lived through some of the decades that brought the most change to this country. He was right there running with the in crowd and living on the edge.

As I mentioned before, I've never read any of Mailer's books. Even though I haven't read anything by him, this movie definitely is still worth a watch. You really do get to see why Mailer is so fascinating even after his death. Those that like American writing, biographies, pure genius or madness will enjoy this movie.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Review: The Color of War by James Campbell

Title: The Color of War
Author: James Campbell
Format: Hardback
Publisher: Crown
Publish Date: May 15, 2012
Source: I received a copy from PR. This did not affect my review.

Why You're Reading This Book:
  • You're interested in the human side of history.
  • You're looking for a book that will broaden your horizon.
What's the Story?:

From "From the acclaimed World War II writer and author of The Ghost Mountain Boys, an incisive retelling of the key month, July 1944, that won the war in the pacific and ignited a whole new struggle on the home front.

In the pantheon of great World War II conflicts, the battle for Saipan is often forgotten. Yet historian Donald Miller calls it "as important to victory over Japan as the Normandy invasion was to victory over Germany." For the Americans, defeating the Japanese came at a high price. In the words of a Time magazine correspondent, Saipan was "war at its grimmest."

On the night of July 17, 1944, as Admirals Ernest King and Chester Nimitz were celebrating the battle's end, the Port Chicago Naval Ammunition Depot, just thirty-five miles northeast of San Francisco, exploded with a force nearly that of an atomic bomb. The men who died in the blast were predominantly black sailors. They toiled in obscurity loading munitions ships with ordnance essential to the US victory in Saipan. Yet instead of honoring the sacrifice these men made for their country, the Navy blamed them for the accident, and when the men refused to handle ammunition again, launched the largest mutiny trial in US naval history.

The Color of War is the story of two battles: the one overseas and the one on America's home turf. By weaving together these two narratives for the first time, Campbell paints a more accurate picture of the cataclysmic events that occurred in July 1944--the month that won the war and changed America."

My Two Cents:

This book is really made up of two stories. The first story is that of the Battle of Saipan, a very decisive battle in the Pacific theater during World War II. It was a hard fought battle that really turned around how the Americans were doing in the war against Japan. The second story is that of the Port Chicago explosion, a much lesser known event that happened during World War II that happened at a Naval munition shipping port of sorts. I actually had never heard of this event (at least that I can recall) and I really enjoy reading about World War II history.

In the battle of Saipan, most of the military personnel that fought were white. While at the Port Chicago explosion, many of the military personnel were black. The military was still really working (working might not be the best word; perhaps grudgingly and exceedingly slowly are more fitting) on trying to fully integrate the military. Even though all branches of the military desperately needed men (remember women were only in the military in a small, very specialized capacity), all branches of the military had serious misgivings about moving forward. It was stunning to see how bull-headed the military leaders were even though opening up the military to other races would have alleviated or at least helped to alleviate the dearth of personnel. It's amazing to look at how things have changed between then and the present. This is not to say that the military is perfectly equal now but man, we've come a long way.

What I liked about this book is that the two stories are told through the people that were there. You get to know the people that were there and what they were seeing and feeling and where they were coming from. I love history books that are told from the view of people. They seem more tangible and seem to touch you a little bit more. I think using stories of people that we, the readers, may be able to see a little bit of ourselves in the men in this book.

I really wish that there had been even more discussion on what was going on as far as integration and segregation in the military. You get a flavor but there isn't really that connective story between what was happening in Saipan and what happened at Port Chicago. The comparisons on how the different troops were treated is really left up to the reader, which is fine but I really wanted a little bit more.

That being said, history lovers are still going to find a lot to love about this book. One of the things that I love most about non-fiction history is seeing where we've been. It's been said that those who don't remember the past are doomed to repeat it. This is why we all should read history books!


Thursday, May 17, 2012

TLC Book Tour Stop and G!ve@way: I Am Forbidden by Anouk Markovits

Title: I Am Forbidden
Author: Anouk Markovits
Format: Hardback
Publisher: Hogarth
Publish Date: May 8, 2012
Source: TLC Book Tours

Why You're Reading This Book:

  • You like crisp, un-frilly prose.
  • You're a historical fiction fan.
  • You don't mind doing a bit of research while you're reading.
What's the Story?:

From "Sweeping from the Central European countryside just before World War II to Paris to contemporary Williamsburg, Brooklyn, I Am Forbidden brings to life four generations of one Satmar family.

Opening in 1939 Transylvania, five-year-old Josef witnesses the murder of his family by the Romanian Iron Guard and is rescued by a Gentile maid to be raised as her own son. Five years later, Josef rescues a young girl, Mila, after her parents are killed while running to meet the Rebbe they hoped would save them. Josef helps Mila reach Zalman Stern, a leader in the Satmar community, in whose home Mila is raised as a sister to Zalman’s daughter, Atara. As the two girls mature, Mila’s faith intensifies, while her beloved sister Atara discovers a world of books and learning that she cannot ignore. With the rise of communism in central Europe, the family moves to Paris, to the Marais, where Zalman tries to raise his children apart from the city in which they live.

When the two  girls come of age, Mila marries within the faith, while Atara continues to question fundamentalist doctrine. The different choices the two sisters makes force them apart until a dangerous secret threatens to banish them from the only community they’ve ever known.

A beautifully crafted, emotionally gripping story of what happens when unwavering love, unyielding law, and centuries of tradition collide, I Am Forbidden announces the arrival of an extraordinarily gifted new voice and opens a startling window on a world long closed to most of us, until now."

My Two Cents: 

I love when books can take me to some place that I haven't been before. Before this book, I was not familiar with the Satmar sect of Judaism, a very conservative sect that really limits what women in the sect are able to do. Women are supposed to be almost subservient to their husbands at all times. They don't hold a lot of power. It was interesting to get a glimpse of what it must be like to be in that world. It's also very interesting that the author grew up in a sect much like the one Mila finds herself living in later on in the book once she marries Josef. The author obviously left the sect and has been out of the sect for awhile as she would have never been able to have written a book like this one while remaining a part of the sect.

Standing at under 300 pages, this book that covers from WWII to the present day moves very quickly and sometimes too quickly for my own liking. While I do like books that move quickly, I found myself wishing that the author would dwell a little bit longer and explain some things. I found myself having to look up a lot about the Satmar sect as it was totally unfamiliar to me and I didn't want to miss anything in the book. I thought that the author really had three stories here that she could have written a book about each. The first story being about Josef's adoptive mother and his childhood and ultimately being taken in by another Satmar family. The second being about Mila's life in Williamsburg. The third being about Mila's grandchildren. All of these stories could have included enough detail to make really full stories.

Because the book moves so quickly, it's almost as if you are looking through a window at the characters but you don't really get to know what's going on inside of the characters heads. To me, this was both a bonus and a detriment. It's a detriment because I really wanted to know why the characters were thinking what they were thinking. It was a bonus because the writing is so crisp and fresh that the sort of sparseness of detail doesn't really detract and allows the writing to really shine through.

Bottom line: A very interesting historical fiction that covers a lot of ground.

Don't Forget to Follow the Rest of the Tour:

Monday, May 7th:  Unabridged Chick
Tuesday, May 8th:  Dolce Bellezza
Wednesday, May 9th:  nomadreader
Thursday, May 10th:  Life in Review
Friday, May 11th:  Peeking Between the Pages
Monday, May 14th:  Diary of an Eccentric
Tuesday, May 15th:  The Literate Housewife Review
Wednesday, May 16th:  Jenn’s Bookshelves
Thursday, May 17th:  A Bookish Affair
Monday, May 21st:  Raging Bibliomania
Tuesday, May 22nd:  Stiletto Storytime
Wednesday, May 23rd:  The 3 R’s Blog
Tuesday, May 29th:  Luxury Reading
Monday, June 4th:  Suko’s Notebook
Date TBD:  Melody & Words
Date TBD:  She is Too Fond of Books - guest post


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Wednesday, May 16, 2012

The winner of In My Father's Country by Saima Wahab is:


Review: The Baker's Daughter by Sarah McCoy

Title: The Baker's Daughter
Author: Sarah McCoy
Format: Hardback
Publisher: Crown Publishing Group
Publish Date: January 24, 2012
Source: Library

Why You're Reading This Book:
  • You're a historical fiction fan.
  • You're interested in the WWII era.

What's the Story?:

From " In 1945, Elsie Schmidt was a naïve teenager, as eager for her first sip of champagne as she was for her first kiss. But in the waning days of the Nazi empire, with food scarce and fears of sedition mounting, even the private yearnings of teenage girls were subject to suspicion and suppression. Elsie’s courtship by Josef Hub, a rising star in the Army of the Third Reich, has insulated her and her family from the terror and desperation overtaking her country. So when an escaped Jewish boy arrives on Elsie’s doorstep in the dead of night on Christmas Eve, Elsie understands that opening the door puts all she loves in danger.

Sixty years later, in El Paso, Texas, Reba Adams is trying to file a feel-good Christmas piece for the local magazine. Reba is a rolling stone, perpetually on the run from memories of a turbulent childhood, but she’s been in El Paso long enough to get a full-time job and a full-time fiancé, Riki Chavez. Riki, an agent with the U.S. Border Patrol, finds comfort in strict rules and regulations, whereas Reba knows that in every good story, lines will be blurred.

Reba's latest assignment has brought her to the shop of an elderly baker across town. The interview should take a few hours at most, but the owner of Elsie's German Bakery is no easy subject. Elsie keeps turning the tables on Reba, and Reba finds herself returning to the bakery again and again, anxious to find the heart of the story. For Elsie, Reba's questions have been a stinging reminder of darker times: her life in Germany during that last bleak year of WWII. And as Elsie, Reba, and Riki's lives become more intertwined, all are forced to confront the uncomfortable truths of the past and seek out the courage to forgive."

My Two Cents:

I was enchanted by this book's cover and its blurb and could hardly wait to get my hands on it. I was so excited when I finally got to pick up the book from the library!

The story is another one of those that tells a story from the past and a story from the present. I liked both stories but I think I liked the story that takes place in WWII in Germany a little bit better. I really, really enjoy reading historical fictions that take place during WWII. I think it's a really interesting time period to read about (fiction or non-fiction). This book introduced me to a program that I had never heard of before. It was called the Lebensborn program. Part charity for unwed mothers, part breeding house for Aryan children, it is utterly creepy. I had never heard of the program before so this book was definitely eye-opening from that perspective.

In The Baker's Daughter, it was interesting to see how everyday Germans were touched by what was going on in their country with regard to politics even if they didn't really believe in what the Nazis were doing. The Schmidt family really seems to be in self-preservation mode during the part of the book that takes place in WWII. They all seem to be hiding something, Elsie especially.

Bottom line: this is a solid historical fiction that will move you!

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Literary Locale: My Vacation Spot

Literary Locale is a weekly feature here on A Bookish Affair where I talk about book settings, where I'm reading all of those wonderful books and just about anything in between. Feel free to grab the logo and join in the fun. I'd love to see where you're reading. 

So I'm back from vacation. I got lots of reading done while I was gone. It's so nice to be able to lay out in the warm sun and just get sucked into a good book. I had a great reading week. I read a total of four books and got part way through two more books. 

So where was my favorite place to read on vacation?

This place right here:
Photo Credit
Clear water. White sandy beaches. Lots of tropical vegetation. Gorgeous views. Yeah, it's all there. I sat myself in a beach chair and read almost an entire book in one sitting. 

Photo Credit

Where are you reading?

Monday, May 14, 2012

G!ve@way W!nners!

Rafflecopter has spoken and I have two giveaway winners to announce!

The winner of The Dragon's Harp by Rachael Pruitt is:

Nan Z.

The winner of The Magnificent Ambersons by Booth Tarkington is:


Both winners have been contacted and have 72 hours to respond.

Review: Boomerang by Michael Lewis

Title: Boomerang
Author: Michael Lewis
Format: Hardback
Publisher: W.W. Norton
Publish Date: October 3, 2011
Source: Library

Why You're Reading This Book:
  • You want more non-fiction in your literary diet.
  • You want an interesting read about current events.
What's the Story?:

From " The tsunami of cheap credit that rolled across the planet between 2002 and 2008 was more than a simple financial phenomenon: it was temptation, offering entire societies the chance to reveal aspects of their characters they could not normally afford to indulge.

Icelanders wanted to stop fishing and become investment bankers. The Greeks wanted to turn their country into a piñata stuffed with cash and allow as many citizens as possible to take a whack at it. The Germans wanted to be even more German; the Irish wanted to stop being Irish.

Michael Lewis's investigation of bubbles beyond our shores is so brilliantly, sadly hilarious that it leads the American reader to a comfortable complacency: oh, those foolish foreigners. But when he turns a merciless eye on California and Washington, DC, we see that the narrative is a trap baited with humor, and we understand the reckoning that awaits the greatest and greediest of debtor nations."

My Two Cents:

I know there are a lot of people out there who are just not big fans of non-fiction and there are probably even less fans of books about economics. I still will urge you to read this book. This is the first Michael Lewis book that I've read but I know that I will be reading more in the future. He is also the author of The Blind Side (I love that movie so much), Moneyball, and The Big Short (apparently Boomerang was the product of some of the research that he did while he was researching and writing The Big Short).

Lewis looks at four countries that have been affected by the worldwide financial crisis over the past few years. There is Iceland, a small country who has been one of the most devastated countries throught this whole ordeal, mostly by their own hand. Greece, who is in the middle of fighting EU austerity measures. Germany, who has stepped in to be a sort of parental figure in trying to make sure that the other EU countries behave (the chapters about Germany made me laugh out loud. Seriously. You don't usually get that in a book about economics). Then there is the United States, which had so much that everyone took it for granted. All of the countries have handled

Lewis has a fantastic way of making information that can seem sort of complicated on the surface accessible to those that don't usually dwell in the world of economics. I think that because of his background in journalism, he knows how to write in order to appeal to a very broad range of people. Also, he's not an economist himself so he does a very good job of explaining things in layman's terms. While I personally am very interested in economics and got a lot out of this book, I think that those who may be a little iffy on the subject will definitely get a lot out of this book as well.

Bottom line: This is a great, easy to read book about a very important subject.

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