Thursday, March 31, 2016

Review: Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead by Sheryl Sandberg

Title: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead
Author: Sheryl Sandberg
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: Knopf
Publish Date: March 11, 2013
Source: Owned

What's the Story?:

From "Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In is a massive cultural phenomenon and its title has become an instant catchphrase for empowering women. The book soared to the top of bestseller lists internationally, igniting global conversations about women and ambition. Sandberg packed theatres, dominated opinion pages, appeared on every major television show and on the cover of Time magazine, and sparked ferocious debate about women and leadership.

Ask most women whether they have the right to equality at work and the answer will be a resounding yes, but ask the same women whether they'd feel confident asking for a raise, a promotion, or equal pay, and some reticence creeps in.

The statistics, although an improvement on previous decades, are certainly not in women's favour – of 197 heads of state, only twenty-two are women. Women hold just 20 percent of seats in parliaments globally, and in the world of big business, a meagre eighteen of the Fortune 500 CEOs are women.

In Lean In, Sheryl Sandberg – Facebook COO and one of Fortune magazine's Most Powerful Women in Business – draws on her own experience of working in some of the world's most successful businesses and looks at what women can do to help themselves, and make the small changes in their life that can effect change on a more universal scale."

My Two Cents:

If you're a young woman in business, you probably heard of "Lean In" by Sheryl Sandberg. This is a book about women's success factors in the workplace, finding work life balance, and having a support system at work and at home in order to make success possible. It really hit home for me. I've always enjoyed working and it's definitely hard to find the elusive worklife balance. This book talks about how important it is for women to get involved in the workplace and to demand equality for equal work. Sandberg talks a lot about the importance of having a good support system at home in order to be successful in both work and life. It's a great read for those women looking for a little push!

This hit home for me as I believe all of the support that I've had at home has made me successful in what I have accomplished in my own life and what I'm able to accomplish at work. Overall, I found this book to be a good inspiration for a lot of the things that I've been thinking about and going through at work. I recommend this book to other young women in the workplace who are looking for strategies to drive them further and help them soar higher.


Wednesday, March 30, 2016

TLC Book Tours Review: North of Here by Laurel Saville

Title: North of Here 
Author: Laurel Saville 
Publisher: Lake Union Publishing
Publish Date: March 1, 2016
Source: TLC Book Tours

What's the Story?:

From "The sounds of unexpected tragedies—a roll of thunder, the crash of metal on metal—leave Miranda in shock amid the ruins of her broken family.

As she searches for new meaning in her life, Miranda finds quiet refuge with her family’s handyman, Dix, in his cabin in the dark forests of the Adirondack Mountains. Dix is kind, dependable, and good with an ax—the right man to help the sheltered Miranda heal—but ultimately, her sadness creates a void even Dix can’t fill.

When a man from her distant past turns up, the handsome idealist now known as Darius, he offers Miranda a chance to do meaningful work at The Source, a secluded property filled with his nature worshipers. Miranda feels this charismatic guru is the key to remaking her life, but her grief and desire for love also create an opportunity for his deception. And in her desperate quest to find herself after losing almost everything, Miranda and Dix could pay a higher price than they ever imagined."

My Two Cents:

 "North of Here" is the story of Miranda, who finds herself all alone after losing her parents. She is spinning and trying to find something to hang on to. She becomes wrapped up in a cult of sorts that will shake her down totally. It's a fascinating read about the downfall of one family and the aftermath when only ashes are left.

The story itself was fascinating. I am always interested to see how people fall into things that seem to me to be something that you'd want to stay far, far away from. In the beginning of the book, we see how Miranda is totally lost. To some degree, she seems really to only have her parents close to her. Eventually there is Dix, but he already seems to be filling the hole that her parents left behind. I wanted to get to know Miranda a little bit better but she seems quite distant throughout the book. I wanted to understand her motivation a little bit better throughout the book.

The writing of the book was good. It flowed nicely and had a very nice pace. There were places where I would have liked more detail. I really wanted to understand more about Darius, the leader of the cult, and what made him tick and what his beliefs were and how they were founded. The characters in general felt a little out of arm's reach throughout the book. Overall, I wanted to get to know the character's better but the interesting story kept me reading.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Review: Team of Teams: The Power of Small Groups in a Fragmented World by Stanley McChrystal

Title: Team of Teams: The Power of Small Groups in a Fragmented World 
Author: Stanley McChrystal
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: Portfolio Hardcover
Publish Date: May 12, 2015
Source: Library

What's the Story?:

From "As commander of Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), General Stanley McChrystal played a crucial role in the War on Terror. But when he took the helm in 2004, America was losing that war badly: despite vastly inferior resources and technology, Al Qaeda was outmaneuvering America’s most elite warriors.

McChrystal came to realize that today’s faster, more interdependent world had overwhelmed the conventional, top-down hierarchy of the US military. Al Qaeda had seen the future: a decentralized network that could move quickly and strike ruthlessly. To defeat such an enemy, JSOC would have to discard a century of management wisdom, and pivot from a pursuit of mechanical efficiency to organic adaptability. Under McChrystal’s leadership, JSOC remade itself, in the midst of a grueling war, into something entirely new: a network that combined robust centralized communication with decentralized managerial authority. As a result, they beat back Al Qaeda.

In this book, McChrystal shows not only how the military made that transition, but also how similar shifts are possible in all organizations, from large companies to startups to charities to governments. In a turbulent world, the best organizations think and act like a team of teams, embracing small groups that combine the freedom to experiment with a relentless drive to share what they’ve learned."

My Two Cents:

"Team of Teams" ranks as the book that I most recommended in 2015. And in 2016, I am still constantly recommending it. Weaving together his experience in the military with some of the business relations research that is currently being done, McChrystal gave me so much to think about in this book. How do we work together? More importantly, how do we work together effectively? McChrystal ruminates on these subjects and more in this book.

This book really got me excited! There are so many things that can easily be implemented in so many different offices, even by those who are not in management. I know that there are already a few things that I have been able to implement that have changed the way that I work and function within groups at work.

If you work with a group of any sort, this book should be on your bookshelf. I originally got this book from the library but I loved it so much and know that I will want to reference/ read it again in the future that I had to get my own copy!


Monday, March 28, 2016

Review: The Broken Places: A Memoir by Joseph McBride

Title: The Broken Places: A Memoir
Author: Joseph McBride 
Format: Ebook
Publisher: Hightower Press
Publish Date: December 7, 2015
Source: PR

What's the Story?:

From "In The Broken Places, Joseph McBride, an internationally acclaimed American cultural historian, recalls his troubled youth in the Midwest during the 1960s. Searingly immediate and yet reflective, this is the author's memoir of his breakdown as a teenager and triumphant recovery. It gives an unsparing look at physical and psychological abuse, family dysfunction and addiction, sexual repression, and Catholic guilt. And at its heart, this is a haunting, often joyous love story.

The Broken Places offers an unforgettable portrait of Kathy Wolf, a brilliant, vibrant, shattered young Native American woman who taught Joe how to live even though she could not save herself. Kathy's life exemplifies what Ernest Hemingway wrote, "The world breaks every one and afterward many are strong at the broken places. But those that will not break it kills. It kills the very good and the very gentle and the very brave impartially.""

My Two Cents:

"The Broken Places" is a memoir by Joseph McBride, who is most well known for his screenwriting and being a professor of film. This book focuses on his extremely tumultuous younger years in the 1970s. It's an unflinching glimpse at people trying to find themselves at a critical juncture of their lives. It's a story of love and breaking down and building things back up.

I am a sucker for memoirs like this. I love seeing how people are able to overcome the difficult things they face. This book has a lot of raw areas, which allow you to see not only where the author has been but how far he has come. McBride is very open about everything in the book. He writes clear and truthfully about things that many would shy away from. The sections about Kathy Wolf were some of my favorites. Her sections aren't happy and the detail was sometimes too much for me to handle. She will stick with me for a long time.

The writing of the book was fairly good. There is a lot of detail in the book that I thought could be streamlined in order to make the book even more powerful than it was before. The detail bogged down the pace a bit and made the book feel somewhat choppy. Overall, these issues were mostly surpassed by a story that I will think about for a long time.


Saturday, March 26, 2016

Review: The Pirate Train by Nicole Plyler Fisk

Title: The Pirate Train
Author: Nicole Plyler Fisk
Format: Paperback
Publish Date: December 11, 2015
Source: Author

What's the Story?:

From "The Pirate Train tells the story of the Yo-Ho-Matey family whose youngest son upsets their pirating plans (he gets seasick), and they have to re-imagine their life as a result. In the first book, the Yo-Ho-Matey family buys their train and travels to Crater of Diamonds State Park in Arkansas to dig for treasure, but each book features a new adventure that further develops the characters and highlights fun destinations for treasure-seekers."

My Two Cents:

"The Pirate Train" is a very sweet story about a family of Pirates who have to leave the high seas when one of their children gets seasick. Filled with great illustrations (definitely one of my favorite parts of the book - the illustrations are very colorful and cute), this book has a good lesson about family. As this book shows, family can make the most difficult things easy when they go through it together. There is also a good book about making the best of things when things change (even this mama still needs that lesson).

This was a great book to share with my girls and I know it's one that we will revisit a lot!


Friday, March 25, 2016

Review: The Good Sister by Jamie Kain

Title: The Good Sister
Author: Jamie Kain
Format: Paperback
Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin
Publish Date: December 8, 2015
Source: Publisher

What's the Story?:

From "The Kinsey sisters live in an unconventional world. Their parents are former flower-children who still don't believe in rules. Their small, Northern California town is filled with free spirits and damaged souls seeking refuge from the real world. Without the anchor of authority, the three girls are adrift and have only each other to rely on.

Rachel is wild. Asha is lost. Sarah, the good sister, is the glue that holds them together. But the forces of a mysterious fate have taken Sarah's life in a sudden and puzzling accident, sending her already fractured family into a tailspin of grief and confusion. Asha has questions. Rachel has secrets. And Sarah, waking up in the afterlife, must piece together how she got there."

My Two Cents:

"The Good Sister" is the story of three sisters who are all adrift. Sarah is dead, which has left Asha and Rachel searching for answers. This is the story of the sisterly bond, a bond like none other, and family secrets. Some secrets bring people closer together, others have the uncanny ability to instantly tear them apart.

I love stories about sisters. Having two of my own, I am drawn to books that explore that bond. The relationship between the three sisters in this book is so wrought with complication that it took me awhile to get into what was going on between the sisters. Add to that, Sarah is speaking from beyond the grave, which added another layer of complication to the story. There is a lot going on here which held me away from the core of the story for the beginning of the book. Eventually, I began to feel more invested as the mystery of Sarah's death was unraveled.

The writing of the book is what kept me reading. I really liked the way that the author was able to create a different voice for each sister. It added a lot of interest to the story line to see how they were each processing things differently. While the story line was not my favorite, I did enjoy the author's writing a lot and look forward to reading more!


Thursday, March 24, 2016

TLC Book Tours Review: Clarina Nichols: Frontier Crusader for Women's Rights by Diane Eickhoff

Title: Clarina Nichols: Frontier Crusader for Women's Rights 
Author: Diane Eickhoff
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: Quindaro Press
Publish Date: March 1, 2016 
Source: TLC Book Tours

What's the Story?:

From "Everyone knows about the ''Votes for Women'' campaign that led to the 19th Amendment in 1920. Few know just how long the struggle really was. Decades earlier, brave women began breaking the taboo of remaining silent at gatherings that included men. They began signing their names to petitions, flexing political muscle long before they had the vote. They wrote millions of words and published some of the most influential books and journals of their day. No one represents this early struggle -- the small triumphs and discouraging setbacks -- better than Clarina Howard Nichols (1810-1885), the Vermont newspaper publisher whose speeches made a powerful case for equality.

Nichols, herself the victim of a failed marriage, was a magnet to abused and mistreated women and was their advocate at a time when her sex was just beginning to speak up. And when she felt progress wasn't coming soon enough, she moved west, to Bleeding Kansas, where she would make history and show the world that feminism could thrive on the frontier."

My Two Cents: 

"Clarina Nichols" is a non-fiction book geared for young adult readers to introduce them to Clarina Nichols, a woman who fought for voting rights for women. She was at the forefront of trying to change things for all women to give them more rights in a time where women were really expected to keep quiet and stay at home. I really didn't know of Clarina Nichols at all before this book and after reading this book, I find it sad that she is another name that has mostly been lost to history.

I love when books can introduce me to someone new. This book covers many different facets of Nichols' life. I liked that the book talked about both her public and private life. It really gave me an appreciation for who she was and why her work was important to getting rights for women. Nichols faced a lot of tragedy in her life, especially within her own family, and it shaped her outlook and what she wanted out of the woman's suffrage movement.

This book was well written. Again, it's geared for young adults so the way that the author writes is simple but exciting. There is so much great historical detail.  This would make a great book for the budding historian!


Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Review: A Kim Jong-Il Production by Paul Fischer

Title: A Kim Jong-Il Production
Author: Paul Fischer
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: Flatiron Books
Publish Date: February 3, 2015
Source: Library

What's the Story?:

From "Before becoming the world's most notorious dictator, Kim Jong-Il ran North Korea's Ministry for Propaganda and its film studios. Conceiving every movie made, he acted as producer and screenwriter. Despite this control, he was underwhelmed by the available talent and took drastic steps, ordering the kidnapping of Choi Eun-Hee (Madam Choi)-South Korea's most famous actress-and her ex-husband Shin Sang-Ok, the country's most famous filmmaker.

Madam Choi vanished first. When Shin went to Hong Kong to investigate, he was attacked and woke up wrapped in plastic sheeting aboard a ship bound for North Korea. Madam Choi lived in isolated luxury, allowed only to attend the Dear Leader's dinner parties. Shin, meanwhile, tried to escape, was sent to prison camp, and "re-educated." After four years he cracked, pledging loyalty. Reunited with Choi at the first party he attends, it is announced that the couple will remarry and act as the Dear Leader's film advisors. Together they made seven films, in the process gaining Kim Jong-Il's trust. While pretending to research a film in Vienna, they flee to the U.S. embassy and are swept to safety."

My Two Cents:

"A Kim Jong Il Production" is one of those books that could be filed under "too good to be true" but it's true all the same. Kim Jong Il, a guy that could also have been filed under "too good to be true but true all the same," really liked movies and so he kidnaps his favorite foreign filmmaker and a movie star and makes them make movies under duress. It's absolutely crazy but it happened and it's all in this book!

Drawing largely from the memories of both the filmmaker and the movie star, the author puts together a crazy story that entertained me from start to finish. North Korea is such a strange place to me and this book definitely illustrates how strange the place (and its leaders really are). I read this book with my mouth agape for most of it just because I could not believe how strange the whole scenario was. It sounds like a plot for a really bad movie because it's so strange.

This was an enjoyable read and would be a great pick for those who love reading about the stranger paths history has taken!


Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Review: Brooklyn

Title: Brooklyn
Format: Blu Ray
Release Date: 2016
Source: PR

With my two little ones, there were very few Oscar nominated films that I was able to watch last year. "Brooklyn" is one of the ones that I was dying to see and after watching it, my want to watch this movie was not unwarranted. The movie is based on the book by Colm Toibin (I tried to get the book from the library prior to watching the movie but the wait list is ridiculously long so the timing did not work out). Brooklyn tells the story of a young woman who leaves everything and everyone she knows in Ireland for a new life in Brooklyn, New York. She is torn between both countries and the movie explores her old ties to Ireland and new ties she is building in the United States.

I loved this story. Saoirse Ronan plays the main character and she's wonderful. She shows the viewer how torn she is between wanting to go back to everything she knows in Ireland and everything she is learning in Brooklyn. She goes from a very shy young woman to a much more worldly person. I also loved the romance in the movie. It's absolutely wonderful to see how the characters fall in love; this is truly a story for my fellow romantics!

This is a gorgeous movie. In a way, it feels like a love letter to the Brooklyn of the mid 20th century, which played host to so many immigrants at that time. The scenery is gorgeous. The costumes are particularly stunning in the way they change as the characters change. They definitely evoke the time! I would love to get my hands on some of the midi skirts in the movie - really stunning!

This is a great movie to get lost in! I still want to go back and read the book but as the movie stands by itself, it is a fantastic pick for anyone looking to be swept away!

Monday, March 21, 2016

TLC Review: Leaving Everything Most Loved by Jacqueline Winspear

Title: Leaving Everything Most Loved 
Author: Jacqueline Winspear
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: Harper
Publish Date: March 26, 2013
Source: TLC Book Tours

What's the Story?:

From "London, 1933. Two months after the body of an Indian woman named Usha Pramal is found in the brackish water of a South London canal, her brother, newly arrived in England, turns to Maisie Dobbs to find out the truth about her death. Not only has Scotland Yard made no arrests, evidence indicates that they failed to conduct a full and thorough investigation.

Before her death, Usha was staying at an ayah's hostel alongside Indian women whose British employers turned them out into the street--penniless and far from their homeland--when their services were no longer needed. As Maisie soon learns, Usha was different from the hostel's other lodgers. But with this discovery comes new danger: another Indian woman who had information about Usha is found murdered before she can talk to Maisie.

As Maisie is pulled deeper into an unfamiliar yet captivating subculture, her investigation becomes clouded by the unfinished business of a previous case as well as a growing desire to see more of the world, following in the footsteps of her former mentor, Maurice Blanche. And there is her lover, James Compton, who gives her an ultimatum she cannot ignore."

My Two Cents:

"Leaving Everything Most Loved" is the tenth book in the Maisie Dobbs series. Our heroine, Maisie, is now charged with solving the murder of an Indian immigrant, Usha. The story has the normal mystery at its core but has a little bit of a darker feeling to it overall. Maisie still wants to solve the crime but she is preoccupied with some of the things going on in her personal life that she has no idea how to deal with. This book shows a very vulnerable side to Maisie.

Although this is the tenth book in the series, this particular book works very nicely as a standalone book. In fact, I myself am going back to read many of the books in this series. It isn't hard to see why this series is so popular. I really liked how this particular book explored the thoughts and prejudices of the day. The victim of the crime in this book is an Indian immigrant. Although the British had been in India for ages, there was a lot of prejudice, especially when Indians came to England. And although they had fought on the same side, many Brits still saw the Indians as lesser. The historical detail really pulled me into the book.

Maisie also is coping with a lot in this book. She is trying to decide what she wants out of life and out of love. She spends a lot of the book seemingly adrift. The end of the book had a hint of what was to come for Maisie, which made me very excited to read the next book!

Follow the Rest of the Tour Here!

Friday, March 18, 2016

Author Interview: Peter Tieryas, Author of "United States of Japan"

I am very excited to welcome Peter Tieryas here to A Bookish Affair. He is the author of a few books, including his latest: "United States of Japan." See my review here!

What inspired you to write "United States of Japan?"

I’ve actually been asked this a lot recently and in previous interviews, I’ve mentioned my desire to explore the tragedies of WWII, how people find their humanity in an authoritarian system that tries to eliminate all sense of conscience, as well as my love of Philip K. Dick’s The Man in the High Castle. But your question made me wonder, what really inspires me to write anything? There are other ideas that have compelled me. How do you pick one book over another that you commit X number of years to writing? And to me, it comes back a lot to the dynamic of the two main characters, Ben Ishimura and Akiko Tsukino, a thematic dialogue that’s been there from the very first draft (which is very different from its current form). Distilled into a more basic level, it’s emotions like hope and fear taken to a super extreme in the Empire and clashing with each other that ultimately motivated me and found expression through the characters. 

Another big motivation was the fact that I was really curious about the world of The Man in the High Castle, wanting to know a whole lot more than what was on the page as well as what the world would be like ten, twenty, even thirty years later..

Why do you think people are so drawn to reading alternate histories?

I think the best alternate histories teach us something about our own world. One of the very first alternate histories I remember is Planet of the Apes which at first doesn’t seem like it has anything to do with Earth, before you realize, it’s all about humanity. In good works of alternate history, we quickly start seeing parallels to our own society and it’s those insights, only possible because we’re at a distance from ourselves, that make them so appealing. It’s way easier to criticize and see flaws in others, reflecting on its relationship to our own lives. But it’s much harder to take the critical lens and turn it to ourselves without that separation to illuminate it for us. With USJ, as much as that past was important, it’s also equally important to see how it connects to the present. I make references to their alternate dimension, our reality, in Akiko’s strange dreams, bouts of transwarp travel that point back at us. 

Who is your favorite character in this book and why?

Usually, I have a favorite character or two. But I think USJ is the first one where I don’t have a favorite and I focused on trying to understand every character, regardless of what I personally thought of them. I can say my favorite characters to write were the Kujira mom and son pair, the mecha pilots who basically defy everything in that world and stand by their own set of moral codes. They form a counter symbol to the original mecha which stands for the empire. The Kujiras weave their own rules within its confines, even breaking out of it. I wouldn’t mind getting the opportunity to write about them some more because it was a real joy. They are a rarity in the world of USJ. Pure idealists who also stand for good and have the strength to back it up.

You've written a few books now. Has your writing process changed at all?

I’d actually love to hear your thoughts on if you’ve seen an evolution in my work, lol. =)  (Meg's note: Yup! There's definitely an evolution with your work. I really like how you grounded even the more outlandish things like the mechas in history and the natural progression of history. So cool!)

It’s such a privilege when a reviewer can see your work in context and examine it as a body rather than a work of its own. I’d like to think I’m getting better, faster, and smarter about the process. But honestly, United States of Japan was by far the hardest book I’ve written. I spent way more time in the editing process than my first two books. Maybe because of its alternate history nature where I was constantly checking the history, checking current tech, trying to make sure to root it in reality while not limiting myself to it. There are already lots of speculative leaps and I know I pushed the boundaries of it to serve the story. At the same time, having that history to support me made some things easier in a different way from, say, Bald New World, where I had to make everything up. (People have asked about the mechas, the technology the Axis was developing, and if it’d be feasible by the late 1980s. If you see some of the older railway guns and prototypes that the Germans and Japanese Empire were working on before the war ended, I think you’d be stunned at how advanced they were.)

Some things remain the same. I still outline, I still have multiple drafts with endless editing. One big difference is the amazing editorial support Angry Robot gave. Phil Jourdan is an amazing editor who I loved working with. I also had a copy editor, Phil Simpson, and two proof readers, Amanda Rutter and Trish Byrne, who were all fantastic and helped iron out the details. I’m really looking forward to working with them again.

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

Probably the Genie from Aladdin so I could wish myself off the island. Then Kujira so I’d have a big mecha. Finally, my wife, Angela, because I can’t imagine going anywhere without her. I wouldn’t last long on an island (or anywhere else) without her. 

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Review: Me Before You by Jojo Moyes

Title: Me Before You
Author: Jojo Moyes
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: Penguin
Publish Date: July 30, 2013
Source: Owned

What's the Story?:

From "Louisa Clark is an ordinary girl living an exceedingly ordinary life—steady boyfriend, close family—who has never been farther afield than their tiny village. She takes a badly needed job working for ex-Master of the Universe Will Traynor, who is wheelchair-bound after an accident. Will has always lived a huge life—big deals, extreme sports, worldwide travel—and now he’s pretty sure he cannot live the way he is.

Will is acerbic, moody, bossy—but Lou refuses to treat him with kid gloves, and soon his happiness means more to her than she expected. When she learns that Will has shocking plans of his own, she sets out to show him that life is still worth living."

My Two Cents:

"Me Before You" is the story of Louisa, a young woman who is fumbling through life. She has never really been outside her small English town and she is happy with the status quo. When she suddenly finds herself looking for a job, she becomes a caretaker/ companion of sorts for Will, a once adventurous man who now finds himself paralyzed and dreading living his life. Both of them will teach each other about what it means to truly live.

I can't believe it took me so long to read this book! My mom and several friends had been urging me to read this book and I just recently got around to reading it. I really enjoyed it. I loved the relationship between Louisa and Will. At first, they don't get along very well at all. They are constantly butting heads but eventually as they begin to learn more about each other, they form a true bond, which makes the ending even sadder and one that I will be thinking about for a long time.

I love books that make me think about ethics and the impact of various decisions. This is definitely one of those books. A lot of the plot line focuses on a particularly difficult ethical dilemma: is it ever justified for someone to bring on their own death? It's a serious topic and the author deftly writes about the impact it has on the person considering suicide and those around them. It was so interesting to see this topic from so many perspectives. I will be thinking about this for a long time. I really enjoy Moyes' writing and look forward to reading more by her!


Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Review: The Strange Library by Haruki Murakami

Title: The Strange Library
Author: Haruki Murakami
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: Knopf
Publish Date: December 2, 2014
Source: Library

What's the Story?:

From "Opening the flaps on this unique little book, readers will find themselves immersed in the strange world of best-selling Haruki Murakami's wild imagination. The story of a lonely boy, a mysterious girl, and a tormented sheep man plotting their escape from a nightmarish library, the book is like nothing else Murakami has written. Designed by Chip Kidd and fully illustrated, in full color, throughout, this small format, 96 page volume is a treat for book lovers of all ages."

My Two Cents:

"The Strange Library" by Haruki Murakami is a strange short story about a boy who goes to the library and is trapped. As with many of Murakami's stories, this story has a magical bend to it. Fans of his earlier works will probably enjoy this one too.

I am a really big fan of Murakami and I must say that this was not my most favorite book of his. Short stories are generally sort of mixed bag for me. I've started to read more short stories and there are some really great ones out there and so I had high hopes for this book. While I still enjoyed this book, I think one of the biggest strengths of Murakami's works are his descriptions and the way that he is able to make the unreal feel real. And in the short story format, he didn't really have a little whole lot of room to work with.

That being said, I think this book still filled the want for weirdness and the extraordinary that I is I am typically looking for whenever I pick up a book by Murakami. If you're interested in trying this author I would definitely suggest starting with some of his novels as it's in these bigger stories where he really shines.

One more thing: this didn't factor into my review of the book as I'm not one to judge a book by its cover but I must admit to you that I thought the binding of those book was really, really cool. Next time you're at your local library or bookstore, pick up the book and just look at the way that they binding was done. It's as strange as the story and very cool!

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Review: The Shadow Queen: A Novel of Wallis Simpson, Duchess of Windsor by Rebecca Dean

Title: The Shadow Queen: A Novel of Wallis Simpson, Duchess of Windsor
Author: Rebecca Dean
Format: Paperback
Publisher: Broadway
Publish Date: August 14, 2012
Source: Owned

What's the Story?:

From "Two lovers. Two very different lives. One future together that will change history.

When debutante Wallis Simpson is growing up, she devotes her teenage daydreams to one man, the future King of England, Prince Edward. But it's Pamela Holtby, Wallis's aristocratic best friend, who mixes within the palace circle. Wallis's first marriage to a dashing young naval pilot is not what she dreamt of; he turns out to be a dominating bully of a man, who punishes her relentlessly. But her fated marriage does open a suprising door, to the world of Navy couriers – where navy wives are being used to transport messages around the world. This interesting turn of fate takes Wallis from the exuberant social scene in Washington to a China that is just emerging from civil war. Edward in the meantime is busy fulfilling his royal duties – and some extra-curricular ones involving married women. Until the day, just before he ascends the throne as Edward VIII, he is introduced to a very special married woman, Wallis Simpson."

My Two Cents:

"The Shadow Queen" is the story of Wallis Simpson, who became the Duchess of Windsor and is most well known for upending the British monarchy. Her falling in love with Prince Edward, heir to the British throne, changed the whole course of history. This led to Prince Edward abdicating the throne and giving his throne up to George, the father of the current queen, Elizabeth. Wallis Simpson is still an incredibly divisive figure in history. There are some people who like her for her independence and who are fascinated with the love story between to her and Edward. There are other people who hate her for her brashness and think that Edward should've never married her in the first place. This book covers Wallis' earliest years and we get to know who she was before she became the woman who disrupted the throne of Britain.

Like I said this book covers the time before Wallis becomes the said shadow queen. I think that while it was interesting to know her background, it felt like the most interesting part of the story was left out. Without the whole thing with Edward, Wallis Simpson may have just been another rich socialite from Baltimore. At the end of the book, Wallis and Edward have just met which makes this story arc of this book feel a little more like a line and not an arc. I did enjoy learning more about Wallis but again, what makes her compelling is her connection to the British throne and that isn't really there at all. I wish there had been more because what we're left with is the narrative of a woman whose story we know how it eventually turns out but it'd be nice to see how she got there.


Monday, March 14, 2016

Review: Finding Audrey by Sophie Kinsella

Title: Finding Audrey 
Author: Sophie Kinsella
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: Delacorte Books for Young Readers
Publish Date: June 9, 2015
Source: Library

What's the Story?:

From "An anxiety disorder disrupts fourteen-year-old Audrey’s daily life. She has been making slow but steady progress with Dr. Sarah, but when Audrey meets Linus, her brother’s gaming teammate, she is energized. She connects with him. Audrey can talk through her fears with Linus in a way she’s never been able to do with anyone before. As their friendship deepens and her recovery gains momentum, a sweet romantic connection develops, one that helps not just Audrey but also her entire family."

My Two Cents:

"Finding Audrey" is the first Young Adult offering from Sophie Kinsella, author of the Shopaholic series. In this book, we meet Audrey, a teenager who has faced bullying at the hand of some bullies (who she thought were her friends) which has manifested itself in a case of major anxiety. Kinsella seeks to use fiction to shed some light on mental illnesses such as generalized anxiety disorder and depression. It works and it doesn't. Keep reading for more details!

When the book opens, Audrey has been facing her demons for a few months and doesn't seem to be getting any better. She meets one of her brother's friends and he begins to press her to confront some of her anxieties. In the midst of all of this, she begins to fall for him as she begins to come out of her shell. I appreciate what Kinsella was trying to do here. Anxiety and depression affect many teens and they are important topics to talk about. Audrey's story is incredibly simplified and straight forward. It over simplifies things that can be quite complicated; things that aren't necessarily going to be fixed by a guy. Yes, Audrey is seeing a psychologist in the book but it really seems to be Linus that takes her out of her anxiety and depression.

That being said, the humor that I have loved in Kinsella's Shopaholic books and several of her standalone books is there. Kinsella does a great job of coming up with characters that are fun to follow. I loved Audrey's crazy family, especially her mother. The scenes with her family were a lot to read.

Overall, while I see what the author was trying to do, it fell a bit short for me. The humor kept me reading though!


Friday, March 11, 2016

Review: America's First Daughter by Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie

Title: America's First Daughter
Authors: Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie 
Format: Paperback
Publisher: William Morrow
Publish Date: March 1, 2016
Source: PR

What's the Story?:

From "From her earliest days, Patsy Jefferson knows that though her father loves his family dearly, his devotion to his country runs deeper still. As Thomas Jefferson’s oldest daughter, she becomes his helpmate, protector, and constant companion in the wake of her mother’s death, traveling with him when he becomes American minister to France.

It is in Paris, at the glittering court and among the first tumultuous days of revolution, that fifteen-year-old Patsy learns about her father’s troubling liaison with Sally Hemings, a slave girl her own age. Meanwhile, Patsy has fallen in love—with her father’s protégé William Short, a staunch abolitionist and ambitious diplomat. Torn between love, principles, and the bonds of family, Patsy questions whether she can choose a life as William’s wife and still be a devoted daughter.

Her choice will follow her in the years to come, to Virginia farmland, Monticello, and even the White House. And as scandal, tragedy, and poverty threaten her family, Patsy must decide how much she will sacrifice to protect her father's reputation, in the process defining not just his political legacy, but that of the nation he founded."

My Two Cents:

Before reading "America's First Daughter," I did not know much about Patsy Jefferson other than she often acted as hostess when her father was the President as his wife had tragically died prior to his Presidency. As this book shows, she was a wholly interesting person by herself. This book covers from when she was very young until she had a family with grown children of her own. It has been such a treat to see more histfic set in America on the market and with great books like this, I am hopeful that this trend will continue!

Often in historical fiction, it seems that the action is centered around one or a few events. Rarely do we get to see such a wide swath of someone's life in a book. The danger for the author is that they won't show a character's growth throughout the book, which can make a book feel false! In this case, the authors' are able to show how Patsy grows and changes throughout the book so by the end, I felt like I really understood where she was coming from and wanted more!

Although Patsy's family had a lot of money and a lot of prestige, it certainly doesn't save her from a lot of the difficult things she faces as an adult which run everything from having a failing farm to losing a child. I really liked the way the authors treated all of these hurdles throughout the book. Patsy was certainly a resilient woman! I've said it before but I'll say it again - histfic is such a great introduction to subjects and people that I am not familiar with! This book is exciting, well paced, and held my attention thoroughly!

The historical detail in the book was fantastic. It's clear how much time and effort the authors put into researching and then adding those details to the book. They did a great job of building Patsy's world. I have a hankering to visit Monticello, Paris, and maybe some of the other places that Patsy sees throughout this book! This book is a treat!


Thursday, March 10, 2016

Author Interview: Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie, Authors of "America's First Daughter"

I am so excited to welcome Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie to A Bookish Affair today!

What inspired you both to write about Patsy Jefferson?

Laura: Thomas Jefferson is one of the most written about presidents in our history. Historians and politicians have examined him from a lot of different angles, but we wondered what he’d look like through his daughter’s eyes. We know what he was like as a Founding Father, but what was he like as an actual father?
Steph: That was our starting point. But once we started researching Patsy, we were fascinated by a woman who was so strong and admirably resilient, but who also shared her father’s moral failings. She is every bit as interesting and frustrating to grapple with as he is--a woman who shaped our history, and everything we believe about ourselves as a nation, from the shadows, often doing unsavory things.
What was it like to write with another author?
Laura: I hadn’t done any collaborative writing before this book, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. Initially we decided to write alternating chapters and I worried that our voices wouldn’t blend well. But when we compared our chapters, we were astonished to find that we both sounded like Patsy--and that others who read our pages couldn’t tell who had written what!
Steph: Now, I have worked on a number of collaborative projects before this book, and each one has its own dynamic. This experience though, was magic. From day one, Laura and I always had the same vision. We knew where we wanted to go with the story. And on those occasions when we disagreed, we’d both explain why we felt the way we felt, and inevitably come up with a third solution that was better than either of us could have imagined on our own. That kind of thing is very special and I know we feel lucky to have found that in one another.
What is the strangest/ most interesting thing you both found in your research?
Laura: When we were first plotting out the book, and looking at the arc of this woman’s life, we thought, “Is it really possible that she had no other loves except her father and the troublesome man that she married?” We instinctively knew that something seemed wrong about that--both because of the way people’s lives tend to be shaped and because it was unsatisfying.
We decided from the start that there would have to be at least one person in Patsy’s life who knew her intimately, who was with her from the start, who might have offered her a different kind of life. And when we started imagining this person we both agreed that it would have to be a young man from Albemarle County, possibly one of her father’s young proteges. Someone whose life could intersect hers at important junctures. We had this whole character invented…
Steph: ...and then we discovered he was real. When our research turned up William Short, and we put his life onto the timeline alongside Patsy’s, we were shocked. Here was a man who we know she did have a romantic relationship with, and who was present for all the most tumultuous times. That kind of discovery lifts the hairs on your nape.
Who are both of your favorite characters in this book?
Steph: You know, I’m going to confess that Tom Randolph is one of my favorite characters in this book. Laura and I had to walk such a fine line with him. As Thomas Jefferson’s son-in-law, he was a deeply troubled man; he had a drinking problem and anger issues. As a contemporary once said, his people were mighty strange. And yet, neither Laura and I could bring ourselves to hate Tom no matter how much he made his wife suffer, because he was a human being who seemed to be trying to improve himself and do better to the end of his days. He just failed a lot.
Laura: Patsy, of course. She’s not always easy to love, but she never fails to inspire with her determination and grit. And who doesn’t love William Short???
If you both could choose any three historical figures to bring with you to a deserted island, who would you bring and why?
Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton, and the Marquis de Lafayette. With their combined genius and bravery, we’d be in safe hands in getting off that island, and the arguments we’d get to hear in the meantime would be extremely educational and entertaining!

About America’s First Daughter:
In a compelling, richly researched novel that draws from thousands of letters and original sources, bestselling authors Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie tell the fascinating, untold story of Thomas Jefferson’s eldest daughter, Martha “Patsy” Jefferson Randolph—a woman who kept the secrets of our most enigmatic founding father and shaped an American legacy.
From her earliest days, Patsy Jefferson knows that though her father loves his family dearly, his devotion to his country runs deeper still. As Thomas Jefferson’s oldest daughter, she becomes his helpmate, protector, and constant companion in the wake of her mother’s death, traveling with him when he becomes American minister to France.
It is in Paris, at the glittering court and among the first tumultuous days of revolution, that fifteen-year-old Patsy learns about her father’s troubling liaison with Sally Hemings, a slave girl her own age. Meanwhile, Patsy has fallen in love—with her father’s protégé William Short, a staunch abolitionist and ambitious diplomat. Torn between love, principles, and the bonds of family, Patsy questions whether she can choose a life as William’s wife and still be a devoted daughter.
Her choice will follow her in the years to come, to Virginia farmland, Monticello, and even the White House. And as scandal, tragedy, and poverty threaten her family, Patsy must decide how much she will sacrifice to protect her father's reputation, in the process defining not just his political legacy, but that of the nation he founded.
Advanced Praise for America’s First Daughter:
“America’s First Daughter brings a turbulent era to vivid life. All the conflicts and complexities of the Early Republic are mirrored in Patsy’s story. It’s breathlessly exciting and heartbreaking by turns-a personal and political page-turner.” (Donna Thorland, author of The Turncoat)
“Painstakingly researched, beautifully hewn, compulsively readable -- this enlightening literary journey takes us from Monticello to revolutionary Paris to the Jefferson White House, revealing remarkable historical details, dark family secrets, and bringing to life the colorful cast of characters who conceived of our new nation. A must read.” (Allison Pataki, New York Times bestselling author of The Accidental Empress)
About the Authors:
Stephanie Dray is an award-winning, bestselling and two-time RITA award nominated author of historical women’s fiction. Her critically acclaimed series about Cleopatra’s daughter has been translated into eight different languages and won NJRW's Golden Leaf. As Stephanie Draven, she is a national bestselling author of genre fiction and American-set historical women's fiction. She is a frequent panelist and presenter at national writing conventions and lives near the nation's capital. Before she became a novelist, she was a lawyer, a game designer, and a teacher. Now she uses the stories of women in history to inspire the young women of today.
Laura Kamoie has always been fascinated by the people, stories, and physical presence of the past, which led her to a lifetime of historical and archaeological study and training. She holds a doctoral degree in early American history from The College of William and Mary, published two non-fiction books on early America, and most recently held the position of Associate Professor of History at the U.S. Naval Academy before transitioning to a full-time career writing genre fiction as the New York Times bestselling author, Laura Kaye. Her debut historical novel, America's First Daughter, co-authored with Stephanie Dray, allowed her the exciting opportunity to combine her love of history with her passion for storytelling. Laura lives among the colonial charm of Annapolis, Maryland with her husband and two daughters.
Laura’s Website | Facebook | Twitter | Newsletter Sign-Up


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Follow the Rest of the Tour:

February 29th
What Is That Book About – Guest Post
Only One More Page – Review
A Fortress of Books – Excerpt

March 1st
Talking Books Blog – Excerpt
Smexy & Fabulous – Excerpt

March 2nd
Roxy's Reviews – Excerpt
Brooke Blogs – Excerpt

March 3rd
Small Review – Guest Post

March 4th – Review
Creative Madness Mama – Excerpt

March 5th
A Dream Within A Dream – Guest Post
Chick with Books – Review
Vagabonda Reads – Review

March 6th
Movies, Shows & Books – Excerpt
I Read Indie – Excerpt

March 7th
No BS Book Reviews – Interview
My fictional escape – Review
Words with Sarah – Review

March 8th
The Maiden's Court – Review
Unabridged Chick – Review
The Book Cellar – Interview
Becky on Books – Review

March 9th
Sofia Loves Books – Review
One Book At A Time – Review

March 10th
A Bookish Affair - Interview
Curled Up and Cozy – Review
Margie's Must Reads – Review

March 11th
Book Talk – Review
JB's Book Obsession – Excerpt
Genre Queen – Review
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