Monday, May 30, 2016

HF Virtual Book Tours Review: Portrait of a Conspiracy by Donna Russo Morin

Title: Portrait of a Conspiracy
Author: Donna Russo Morin
Format: Ebook
Publisher: Diversion Publishing
Publish Date: May 10, 2016
Source: HF Virtual Book Tours

What's the Story?:

From "One murder ignites the powderkeg that threatens to consume the Medici's Florence. Amidst the chaos, five women and one legendary artist weave together a plot that could bring peace, or get them all killed. Seeking to wrest power from the Medici family in 15th Century Florence, members of the Pazzi family drew their blades in a church and slew Giuliano. But Lorenzo de Medici survives, and seeks revenge on everyone involved, plunging the city into a murderous chaos that takes dozens of lives. Bodies are dragged through the streets, and no one is safe. Five women steal away to a church to ply their craft in secret. Viviana, Fiammetta, Isabetta, Natasia, and Mattea are painters, not allowed to be public with their skill, but freed from the restrictions in their lives by their art. When a sixth member of their group, Lapaccia, goes missing, and is rumored to have stolen a much sought after painting as she vanished, the women must venture out into the dangerous streets to find their friend and see her safe. They will have help from one of the most renowned painters of their era the peaceful and kind Leonardo Da Vinci. It is under his tutelage that they will flourish as artists, and with his access that they will infiltrate some of the highest, most secretive places in Florence, unraveling one conspiracy as they build another in its place."

My Two Cents:

"Portrait of a Conspiracy" is the first book in a new series by Donna Russo Morin. It follows several women who yearn to be artists. Unfortunately because of the time they live in, the Renaissance in Florence, they cannot practice their art openly. A very public murder rocks their world and threatens the society of Florence. These women find themselves in the center of it and will do anything to try to make things better and protect those close to them.

Viviana, Fiammetta, Isabetta, Natasia, and Mattea are fantastic characters. At first, I was a little leery of having so many main characters but Morin does an amazing job of creating a unique voice for each woman. You may have noticed that the series is called Da Vinci's Disciples and Leonardo Da Vinci (one of my personal favorites) does make an appearance in this book. I appreciated that even though he is a larger than life character and plays a great role in the book, the author still lets the women be the stars of the show. Da Vinci plays a more backseat role, which was great to see.

The writing of the book was good. The mystery at the center of the story was nice and tight and very exciting. While this is a series, I felt some closure at the end of this book, which was nice. There are enough things that I am still wondering about though to keep me excited about reading the next book. I so want to get back to these characters! Overall, this was an exciting read that put me in the center of Renaissance Italy.


Friday, May 27, 2016

Review: Pound for Pound: A Story of One Woman's Recovery and the Shelter Dogs Who Loved Her Back to Life by Shannon Kopp

Title: Pound for Pound: A Story of One Woman's Recovery and the Shelter Dogs Who Loved Her Back to Life
Author: Shannon Kopp 
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: William Morrow
Publish Date: October 6, 2015
Source: PR

What's the Story?:

From "The brave, inspiring story of one woman's recovery from a debilitating eating disorder, and the remarkable shelter dogs who unexpectedly loved her back to life.

“The dogs don’t judge me or give me a motivational speech. They don’t rush me to heal or grow. They sit in my lap and lick my face and make me feel chosen. And sometimes, it hits me hard that I'm doing the exact thing I say I cannot do. Changing.”

Pound for Pound is an inspirational tale about one woman’s journey back to herself, and a heartfelt homage to the four-legged heroes who unexpectedly saved her life.

For seven years, Shannon Kopp battled the silent, horrific, and all-too-common disease of bulimia. Then, at twenty-four, she got a job working at the San Diego Humane Society and SPCA, where in caring for shelter dogs, she found the inspiration to heal and the courage to forgive herself. With the help of some extraordinary homeless animals, Shannon realized that her suffering was the birthplace of something beautiful. Compassion."

My Two Cents:

 "Pound for Pound" is the story of Shannon Kopp, a woman who is suffering from many different things and is looking for a way to turn herself around. Like all true animal lovers know, Kopp realizes just how amazing animals are and how they can help us find and create the best of ourselves. This is a story of recovering and realizing that we all have the power to make things better for not only ourselves but others too.

It is no secret that I'm an animal lover. Not only are animals cute and fuzzy but they bring out the best in people and help us in so many ways. Through this book, I feel like I've found a kindred spirit in Kopp. I was inspired in all that she did to help the dogs in the book as well as all of what they did to help her. Animals are so amazing! I loved how Kopp's passion for the dogs she worked with shines throughout the book. This book is definitely a good pick for anyone who has adopted or worked with animals and has wondered if they were saving the animals or if the animals were actually saving them.

I really appreciated Kopp's honesty throughout the book. She is completely open about all she was facing and the path that got her there. I really felt for her throughout the book. You almost feel as if you are talking to a friend, which really helped me to get into the book. This is a great memoir for animal lovers!

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Review: The A to Z of You and Me by James Hannah

Title: The A to Z of You and Me
Author: James Hannah
Format: ARC
Publisher: Sourcebooks
Publish Date: May 3, 2016
Source: Publisher

What's the Story?:

From "He has all kinds of everyday joy in his life -- he's young, he's in love, he has friends who promise to stand by him if life ever goes wrong.

Then one day, life does go wrong.

He makes a mistake, and it's big and unforgiveable. Now time is running out, and his life is falling apart. But he's going to put it back together again. His own way.

This is a story about how far love must stretch to gather a life in pieces -- and about how a strong friendship never dies."

My Two Cents: 

"The A to Z of You and Me" is the story of Ivo, a guy who is in hospice and is looking over his life. He has a lot of time to think and he finds himself dwelling on the past, like so many of us would do when confronted with our own mortality. He is playing the alphabet game where he goes through the alphabet thinking of many different memories, many of them related to Mia, who is the proverbial one that got away.

Ivo, our main character, leads us through his life. Because the book is told from his perspective, we get to know him the best. The secondary characters were great as well. I especially like Sheila, Ivo's hospice nurse. She is so amazing to him throughout the book and I loved seeing how she tries to help him as he goes through all he goes through this book.

The best feature of this book is it's very original telling. Ivo's alphabet game is imaginative and a great way of showing us a lot of different aspects of his life. We get to know him both as a child and a young adult. The alphabet game forces Ivo to think of the important things that got him to where he is now. They're important moments in order to understand who he is as a person and how he interacts the way that he does with the other characters in this book. The fact that the alphabet game does not go chronologically was a little confusing because it means we are flashing through different time periods and it is up to the reader to put together the pieces. This had me a little bit confused and flipping back and forth throughout the book to make sure I was remembering everything correctly, which took me out of the book a little bit. Overall, this was a solid, inventive read.


Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Review: The 100 Year Miracle by Ashley Ream

Title: The 100 Year Miracle
Author: Ashley Ream
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: Flatiron Books
Publish Date: May 24, 2016
Source: Publisher

What's the Story?:

From "Once a century, for only six days, the bay around a small Washington island glows like a water-bound aurora. Dr. Rachel Bell, a scientist studying the 100-Year Miracle and the tiny sea creatures that create it, knows a secret about the phenomenon that inspired the region’s myths and folklore: the rare green water may contain a power that could save Rachel's own life (and change the world). When Rachel connects with Harry and Tilda, a divorced couple cohabiting once again as Harry enters the last stages of a debilitating disease, Harry is pulled into Rachel's obsession and hope as they both grasp at this once-in-a-lifetime chance to save themselves.

But the Miracle does things to people. Strange and mysterious things. And as these things begin to happen, Rachel has only six days to uncover and control the Miracle's secrets before the waters go dark for another hundred years."

My Two Cents:

"The 100 Year Miracle" is the story of Rachel, Tilda, and Harry, three characters who come together in some very surprising ways. Every 100 years, water surrounding the area where Harry and Tilda glows green with bio luminescence. Rachel believes that she knows how to harness the power of the water in order to create life saving substance. It'll change the lives of her and those around her. This is a very original story that captivated my mind and imagination.

The characters in this book fascinated. Rachel is especially fascinating. She is a scientist driven in doing something good with the glowing green water even if it means sneaking around in order to do it. I really wanted to know more about what made her tick. She is so secretive throughout the book that it was hard to really get to know her throughout the story because I felt like I was being held at arm's length. I wanted to know more about her and why she wants to do what she does throughout the book.

Overall, the writing of the book was pretty good. The story is very original, which kept me engaged in seeing where it goes. I love books that can surprise one and this one definitely did that. The ending especially surprised me!  

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

HF Virtual Book Tours Review: Marlene by C.W. Gortner

Title: Marlene
Author: C.W. Gortner
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: William Morrow
Publish Date: May 24, 2016
Source: HF Virtual Book Tours

What's the Story?:

From "Raised in genteel poverty after the first World War, Maria Magdalena Dietrich dreams of a life on the stage. When a budding career as a violinist is cut short, the willful teenager vows to become a singer, trading her family’s proper, middle class society for the free-spirited, louche world of Weimar Berlin’s cabarets and drag balls. With her sultry beauty, smoky voice, seductive silk cocktail dresses, and androgynous tailored suits, Marlene performs to packed houses, and becomes entangled in a series of stormy love affairs that push the boundaries of social convention. 

For the beautiful, desirous Lili Marlene, neither fame nor marriage and motherhood can cure her wanderlust. As Hitler and the Nazis rise to power, she sets sail for America. Rivaling the success of another European import, Greta Garbo, Marlene quickly becomes one of Hollywood’s leading ladies, starring with legends such as Gary Cooper, John Wayne, and Cary Grant. Desperate for her return, Hitler tries to lure her with dazzling promises. Marlene instead chooses to become an American citizen, and after her new nation is forced into World War II, tours with the USO, performing for thousands of Allied troops in Europe and Africa. 

But one day she will return to Germany. Escorted by General George Patton himself, Marlene is heartbroken by the war’s devastation and the evil legacy of the Third Reich that has transformed her homeland and the family she loved. "

My Two Cents:

Prior to reading this book, I basically knew that Marlene Dietrich was an Old Hollywood star (with absolutely stunning bone structure) who was originally from Germany - not much at all. In this book, C.W. Gortner breathes life into this woman and shows why she is still so well remembered by so many. She is  a fascinating person and it easy to see why she makes such a great subject for this historical fiction. 

The book is told from the perspective of Marlene. I absolutely loved being able to really step into her shoes through this book and see what she saw. Marlene does a lot of living, particularly in the earlier years of her life and it was great to see it through her eyes and to hear her explain what she was going through and what she was thinking. The book starts during her very early life as a schoolgirl in Germany so we get to know her well before she became a Hollywood siren. I loved how Gortner shows her progression from a rather shy young girl to someone who isn't afraid to put herself out there. She indulges in many pleasures throughout her young life. Her rise to Hollywood was also wonderful to read about.

I've read several of Gortner's books before and I love his way with words. He does a great job of creating very unique voices for his characters and making them incredibly memorable. By the end of the book, Marlene felt incredibly intimate to me and this book only whetted my appetite to read more about her in the future. The descriptions are a true treat for my fellow historical fiction fans!

Monday, May 23, 2016

Review: The Only Thing Worse Than Me Is You by Lily Anderson

Title: The Only Thing Worse Than Me Is You
Author: Lily Anderson
Format: Ebook
Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin
Publish Date: May 17, 2016
Source: Publisher

What's the Story?:

From "Trixie Watson has two very important goals for senior year: to finally save enough to buy the set of Doctor Who figurines at the local comic books store, and to place third in her class and knock Ben West--and his horrendous new mustache that he spent all summer growing--down to number four.

Trixie will do anything to get her name ranked over Ben's, including give up sleep and comic books--well, maybe not comic books--but definitely sleep. After all, the war of Watson v. West is as vicious as the Doctor v. Daleks and Browncoats v. Alliance combined, and it goes all the way back to the infamous monkey bars incident in the first grade. Over a decade later, it's time to declare a champion once and for all.

The war is Trixie's for the winning, until her best friend starts dating Ben's best friend and the two are unceremoniously dumped together and told to play nice. Finding common ground is odious and tooth-pullingly-painful, but Trixie and Ben's cautious truce slowly transforms into a fandom-based tentative friendship. When Trixie's best friend gets expelled for cheating and Trixie cries foul play, however, they have to choose who to believe and which side they're on--and they might not pick the same side."

My Two Cents:

"The Only Thing Worse Than Me is You" is a sparkling YA book loosely based on Shakespeare's "Much Ado About Nothing." I am always drawn to retellings because they can shed new light on old favorites. I was interested to see how the author would take on this classic and she does it well. This book follows a group of super smart high school students focused on rank at their elite school. Trixie is in a fight to the finish to maintain her rank and is hoping that there is nothing that will sideline her and take her focus.

Trixie is such a great character. I really appreciated that she reveled in her wit and intellect. She is smart and has no qualms about showing it. I really liked how her character grew throughout the book. She starts realizing a lot of herself throughout the story arc. The secondary characters were great as well. 

Probably my favorite part of this book is the dialogue. Anderson has a great ear for sparkling, interesting dialogue and had a great way of making the characters each have their own voice. The banter moves quickly and is full of interesting turns of phrase that kept me reading. The writing of the book was great! Overall, I thought this was a great YA read!

Friday, May 20, 2016

Blog Tour Review: Summer Days & Summer Nights: Twelve Love Stories by Stephanie Perkins and Many More!

Title: Summer Days & Summer Nights: Twelve Love Stories
Authors: Stephanie Perkins, Leigh Bardugo, Francesca Lia Block, Libba Bray, Cassandra Clare, Brandy Colbert, Tim Federle, Lev Grossman, Nina Lacour, Veronica Roth, Jon Skovron, Jennifer E. Smith
Format: Ebook (Netgalley)
Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin
Publish Date: May 17, 2016
Source: Publisher

What's the Story?:

From "Maybe it's the long, lazy days, or maybe it's the heat making everyone a little bit crazy. Whatever the reason, summer is the perfect time for love to bloom. Summer Days & Summer Nights: Twelve Love Stories, written by twelve bestselling young adult writers and edited by the international bestselling author Stephanie Perkins, will have you dreaming of sunset strolls by the lake. So set out your beach chair and grab your sunglasses. You have twelve reasons this summer to soak up the sun and fall in love."

My Two Cents:

With the weather having been rainy and rather cool here in the D.C. area for the past few weeks, it has been so hard for me to remember that summer is just around the corner. This book was a great reminder for me. There are tons of great authors in this book. Some I've read before (Stephanie Perkins) and others I've wanted to try (Leigh Bardugo, Nina Lacour, etc.). This was a great book to get back to some great authors while trying new authors. This book captures a lot of the carefree summer days of my teenage years. 

All of the stories are varied and feature lots of different love stories. As someone who truly believes in the "We Need Diverse" books movement, I was thrilled to see some diverse characters throughout this book. Sometimes I feel like the YA world is way more forward leaning on this than the adult world! There were so many of the stories that I really enjoyed. Each one is different and has some really good characters. I loved Leigh Bardugo's book which had an amazing dose of magical realism - very cool!

The collection of authors here includes some of the top names in YA today. It is impressive to see these authors all together. All of the writers write in different ways but are great in their own ways. This is the perfect book to prepare for the warmer times ahead!

Thursday, May 19, 2016

TLC Book Tours Review: A Series of Catastrophes and Miracles: A True Story of Love, Science, and Cancer by Mary Elizabeth Williams

Title: A Series of Catastrophes and Miracles: A True Story of Love, Science, and Cancer
Author: Mary Elizabeth Williams 
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: National Geographic
Publish Date: April 26, 2016
Source: TLC Book Tours

What's the Story?:

From "After being diagnosed in her early 40s with metastatic melanoma—a "rapidly fatal" form of cancer—journalist and mother of two Mary Elizabeth Williams finds herself in a race against the clock. She takes a once-in-a-lifetime chance and joins a clinical trial for immunotherapy, a revolutionary drug regimen that trains the body to vanquish malignant cells. Astonishingly, her cancer disappears entirely in just a few weeks. But at the same time, her best friend embarks on a cancer journey of her own—with very different results. Williams's experiences as a patient and a medical test subject reveal with stark honesty what it takes to weather disease, the extraordinary new developments that are rewriting the rules of science—and the healing power of human connection."

My Two Cents:

In "A Series of Catastrophes and Miracles," Mary Elizabeth Williams takes readers through her ordeal with cancer, a very serious thing. With doses of both seriousness and humor (believe it or not), she shows readers what it is really like to go something like her ordeal and come out the other side. She explores both the science and the sheer force of will it took her to get through something too many people have to face.

I was intrigued by the promise of discussion of immunotherapy and thrilled by the good sense of humor and realness that you find throughout the book. It was so interesting to read Williams' account of what her treatment was like - truly amazing! At the same time, we see what her dear friend has to go through in contrast. This book really showed me both how far we've come and how far we have yet to go when it comes to treating diseases like cancer. This book is a great pick for anyone who wants to know more about what it is like to go through these truly cutting edge treatments.

Yes, this is a serious subject but the author does an amazing job of infusing humor and insight into what happened to her. I like memoirs because they allow me to see my own life through a different lens. I have known so many people who have gone through cancer or who have died from it and this book makes me think a lot about what could have been had there only been more of this kind of treatment sooner!


Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Review: Astonish Me by Maggie Shipstead

Title: Astonish Me
Author: Maggie Shipstead
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: Vintage
Publish Date: January 5, 2015
Source: Library

What's the Story?:

From ""Astonish Me" is the irresistible story of Joan, a ballerina whose life has been shaped by her relationship with the world-famous dancer Arslan Ruskov, whom she helps defect from the Soviet Union to the United States. While Arslan's career takes off in New York, Joan's slowly declines, ending when she becomes pregnant and decides to marry her longtime admirer, a PhD student named Jacob. As the years pass, Joan settles into her new life in California, teaching dance and watching her son, Harry, become a ballet prodigy himself. But when Harry's success brings him into close contact with Arslan, explosive secrets are revealed that shatter the delicate balance Joan has struck between her past and present."

My Two Cents:

"Astonish Me" is the story of Joan, a woman who gave up her dream of being a ballerina after she marries someone from her hometown and has a baby. But before that, she helped a dissident from the Soviet Union flee the country. Arslan is a wonderful dancer and is able to have a very successful career in the United States. He and Joan will move in and out of each other's lives throughout this book in very surprising ways.

I had heard a lot about this book and about Shipstead's writing, which is what initially drew me to this book. While far removed from that world, I have always been fascinated by the high stakes realm of ballet. It seems so competitive and so exciting so the subject matter also interested me. The story started a little slow for me. I kind of felt like I was being held at arm's length from the characters. Joan is a very shut off character and because of the action in the story, she really has to be. I wanted to understand her motivation more so that I could engage with the story better.

This book has some major twists and turns that really kept me engaged and wanting to read further. Shipstead does a good job of continuously turning everything that the reader thinks that they know on its head. It was these twists that really kept me reading! Overall, this book was a little dry for me and I wanted to be more "in it."


Monday, May 16, 2016

Review: Looking East by Jacqueline Dreager

Title: Looking East 
Author: Jacqueline Dreager
Format: Paperback
Publisher: Sierra Press
Publish Date: March 6, 2016
Source: PR

What's the Story?:

From "In 1912 Guangxi Provence, nine year old Guoshi Mo experienced two life altering events: his pigtail was chopped off and subsequently he was betrothed to a little girl his own age simply named, Sister 13. Guoshi, an exemplary student, was dead set against this type of arrangement and would spend most of his life fighting to right the wrongs of feudalism and corruption.

Changing his name from Guoshi Mo to James Mo, he sailed from Shanghai to New York City in 1920 to work for the American Communist Party. He met and fell in love with Celia Edelson, a Young Pioneer from the communist youth division. Considered an agitator by The New York Times, Comrade James Mo was on the FBI list of suspicious individuals and was spirited out of New York to the Soviet Union, leaving behind his beloved Celia. Within one year she would join him in Moscow to live at the infamous Lux, the hotel that housed German, Russian and Chinese exiles. In 1933 Celia became pregnant and was sent back to the United States by the Communist Party while James continued his studies at the Lenin Institute in Moscow.

In April 1934 Celia's baby is born in Cleveland Ohio. That same year Celia hears rumblings of James affair with a Ukrainian woman he met in Moscow. Celia, resentful and bitter, cuts off communication with the father of her child. Comrade James Mo marries, has a son and is subsequently arrested and imprisoned at two Moscow prisons, Lubianka, prison of death and Butyrka prison for deceiving the Party and lying about being born into a landowning family of intellectuals.

One hundred prisoners, including James, were escorted by train to a labor camp in the Siberian tundra where he would remain for eighteen years, felling trees, making bricks and patrolling an oil pipeline. Never having met his American daughter, Victoria, he would search for her for a dozen years upon his release from the Siberian Gulag."

My Two Cents:

"Looking East" is the story of James, a member of the Chinese Communist Party, and Celia, an American with a Russian family who joins the Communist Party in the United States. They meet in the United States and their love affair will set the tone for the book. The story focuses much more on James and his journey as a young man, then in America, then in the gulag.

James and Celia were both real people and the author draws heavily on actual memories and writings of their daughter, Victoria. In one way, this makes many of the characters feel real but in another way, it also makes the narrative suffer from an abundance of telling rather than showing. It can sometimes be detrimental to have too much detail. The reader needs room to create some of the book's world itself but with all of the description, the ability to do that was extremely limited. The added telling added a choppy feel to the book. Some sections were very good only to be overcome by too much extra information, which took me out of the book. I think the book could have been way more streamlined.

That being said, what kept me reading is the story line. James truly had a fascinating life and it is plain to see why the author wanted to tell his story through this historical fiction book. This book had so many of the factors that I look for in a book: exotic locales, interesting characters, and exotic locales. Overall, the characters need to be able to breathe and connect with the audience. Some of this was stymied here but the story itself pulls you in.


Thursday, May 12, 2016

Review: The Fox Was Ever the Hunter by Herta Müller

Title: The Fox Was Ever the Hunter
Author: Herta Müller
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: Metropolitan Books
Publish Date: May 10, 2016
Source: PR

What's the Story?:

From "Romania—the last months of the Ceausescu regime. Adina is a young schoolteacher. Paul is a musician. Clara works in a wire factory. Pavel is Clara’s lover. But one of them works for the secret police and is reporting on all of the group.

One day Adina returns home to discover that her fox fur rug has had its tail cut off. On another occasion it’s the hindleg. Then a foreleg. The mutilated fur is a sign that she is being tracked by the secret police—the fox was ever the hunter.

Images of photographic precision combine into a kaleidoscope of terror as Adina and her friends struggle to keep mind and body intact in a world pervaded by complicity and permeated with fear, where it’s hard to tell victim from perpetrator."

My Two Cents:

"The Fox Was Ever the Hunter" follows several characters but mostly the main character is Adina, a woman who believes that the Romanian secret police are following her at the end of the totalitarian regime of Ceausescu. I was fascinated by this look at a history that I was not all that familiar with.

What kept me reading this book is the writing. The writing is absolutely gorgeous and engaging. It does make you feel like there is a little bit of space between you and the characters and I never really felt like I got to know the characters very well and I wish I would have gotten to know them a little bit better throughout the book. There were several parts of the narrative that I read a few times simply because they were so well written.

The story itself left me wanting. Again, I think much of that had to do with feeling like I did not know the characters very well. It was hard for me to feel like I was very engaged with them. I wish there had also been a little bit more about the political situation of Romania at the time. You certainly get a taste of it but I wanted more.

Overall, the writing kept me reading and I will be on the lookout for some of Muller's other books! This story was a good taste!


Wednesday, May 11, 2016

TLC Book Tours Review: The Secrets of Flight by Maggie Leffler

Title: The Secrets of Flight
Author: Maggie Leffler
Format: ARC
Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks
Publish Date: May 3, 2016
Source: TLC Book Tours

What's the Story?:

From "Estranged from her family since just after World War II, Mary Browning has spent her entire adult life hiding from her past. Now eighty-seven years old and a widow, she is still haunted by secrets and fading memories of the family she left behind. Her one outlet is the writing group she’s presided over for a decade, though she’s never written a word herself. When a new member walks in—a fifteen-year-old girl who reminds her so much of her beloved sister Sarah—Mary is certain fate delivered Elyse Strickler to her for a reason.

Mary hires the serious-eyed teenager to type her story about a daring female pilot who, during World War II, left home for the sky and gambled everything for her dreams—including her own identity.  

As they begin to unravel the web of Mary’s past, Mary and Elyse form an unlikely friendship. Together they discover it’s never too late for second chances and that sometimes forgiveness is all it takes for life to take flight in the most unexpected ways."

My Two Cents:

"The Secrets of Flight" is the story of two people, Mary and Elyse. Mary is almost 90 and is looking back at her life and trying to come to terms with the secrets she has been hiding. Elyse is 15 and is going through a lot as her world is upended when her family breaks apart. These two characters have very different backgrounds that come together in some really surprising ways in this book. This book is one where I was torn between turning the pages faster and savoring each page for a little bit longer.

With many historical fiction books that have narratives in different time periods, I am usually drawn to the one set in the past. While I really, really liked the past narrative (I'll get to that in a second), the present narrative where Mary and Elyse come together is great. I loved seeing how they unraveled Mary's past. This aspect kept me turning the pages. I loved the past narrative as well. Mary secretly learns to fly planes without most of her family knowing. It's World War II and not becoming for a woman to do something that is usually done by men. Although I have no aspirations to fly, my husband got his pilot's license last year and I saw a lot of the same excitement and daring and want for adventure between him and Mary, which made her character feel very true to me.

The historical detail in the book is very good. I loved how the author described Mary's life and her family, especially her dear sister Sarah. These are characters that I will be thinking about for a very long time. If you are looking for a historical fiction filled with vivid characters, daring, and adventure, this would be a great pick!


Tuesday, May 10, 2016

TLC Book Tours: When the Moon is Low by Nadia Hashimi

Title: When the Moon is Low
Author: Nadia Hashimi 
Format: Paperback
Publisher: William Morrow
Publish Date: July 21, 2015
Source: TLC Book Tours

What's the Story?:

From "Mahmoud, a civil engineer, becomes a target of the new fundamentalist regime and is murdered. Forced to flee Kabul with her three children, Fereiba has one hope to survive: she must find a way to cross Europe and reach her sister's family in England. With forged papers and help from kind strangers they meet along the way, Fereiba make a dangerous crossing into Iran under cover of darkness. Exhausted and brokenhearted but undefeated, Fereiba manages to smuggle them as far as Greece. But in a busy market square, their fate takes a frightening turn when her teenage son, Saleem, becomes separated from the rest of the family.

Faced with an impossible choice, Fereiba pushes on with her daughter and baby, while Saleem falls into the shadowy underground network of undocumented Afghans who haunt the streets of Europe's capitals. Across the continent Fereiba and Saleem struggle to reunite, and ultimately find a place where they can begin to reconstruct their lives.

My Two Cents:

"When the Moon is Low" is the story of Fereiba and her family. They are living in Afghanistan right during the time of the Soviet invasion. Things are tumultuous and families are being torn apart. Fereiba wants to make sure that her family stays together and they have a chance at a better life. This book immerses the reader in a world where there is danger and unpredictability at every turn. This is a heart-wrenching story.

The story of Fereiba and Mahmoud's marriage is almost fairytale - like. At first, I was not sure about the author's decision to show so much of their early marriage but I think it really set up for me what kind of person Fereiba was and made her tick. It also helped me understand how things affect her, which is very important for the bulk of the action in this book. Fereiba was so interesting to me - she is strong in a world where it is not always permissive for a woman to be so strong. I really enjoyed getting to know her and her family through this book.

This book was such a rollercoaster ride for me. You're hoping so hard for things to turn out okay throughout the book and I felt very emotionally invested. I also liked getting to see places that I was not familiar with. The detail that the author added to the book really engaged me. This is the second book that I have read by Hashimi and I am anxious to read more in the future!

HF Virtual Book Tours: Promised to the Crown by Aimie K. Runyan

Title: Promised to the Crown
Author: Aimie K. Runyan
Format: ARC
Publisher: Kensington
Publish Date: April 26, 2016
Source: HF Virtual Book Tours

What's the Story?:

From "They are known as the filles du roi, or “King’s Daughters”—young women who leave prosperous France for an uncertain future across the Atlantic. Their duty is to marry and bring forth a new generation of loyal citizens. Each prospective bride has her reason for leaving—poverty, family rejection, a broken engagement. Despite their different backgrounds, Rose, Nicole, and Elisabeth all believe that marriage to a stranger is their best, perhaps only, chance of happiness.

Once in Quebec, Elisabeth quickly accepts baker Gilbert Beaumont, who wants a business partner as well as a wife. Nicole, a farmer’s daughter from Rouen, marries a charming officer who promises comfort and security. Scarred by her traumatic past, Rose decides to take holy vows rather than marry. Yet no matter how carefully she chooses, each will be tested by hardship and heartbreaking loss—and sustained by the strength found in their uncommon friendship, and the precarious freedom offered by their new home."

My Two Cents:

"Promised to the Crown" is the story of three women from France who seek to make their futures in Canada, called New France at this time. Nicole, Elisabeth, and Rose are three very different women from very different backgrounds who believe that they are better off going to someplace where they really don't know anyone and marrying a man in the colony. I did not know much about New France and the settlers there before this book but this historical fiction gives a fascinating glimpse into a new world filled with risk and men who could make or break these young women.

All three stories are good and kept me into the book but I was most drawn to Rose's story because of both the tragedy she goes through and the redemption she eventually has. The three main characters are so different and I thought that the author did a really good job of making them and the secondary characters feel really real. I got very attached to the characters and was thrilled to see that there will be a sequel to this book! There are so many ups and downs that the characters go through and we get to see the main characters both at their best and their worst, which really helped to endear them to me!

I've mentioned this again and again but I love how historical fiction allows you to visit a different place and time. I really haven't read much about this time period and I definitely have not read a lot about New France and its settlers. The author adds a lot of really good detail that really made the settlement come to life. I can't wait to get back to this place and these characters! This book is such a treat for histfic lovers!


Monday, May 9, 2016

TLC Book Tours: Alice in Bed by Judith Hooper

Title: Alice in Bed
Author: Judith Hooper
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: Counterpoint
Publish Date: October 13, 2015
Source: TLC Book Tours

What's the Story?:

From "Arm yourself against my dawn, which may at any moment cast you and Harry into obscurity, Alice James writes her brother William in 1891.

In Judith Hooper’s magnificent novel, zingers such as this fly back and forth between the endlessly articulate and letter-writing Jameses, all of whom are geniuses at gossiping. 

And the James family did, in fact, know everyone intellectually important on both sides of the Atlantic, but by the time we meet her in 1889, Alice has been sidelined and is lying in bed in Leamington, England, after taking London by storm. 

We don’t know what’s wrong with Alice. No one does, though her brothers have inventive theories, and the best of medical science offers no help. So, with Alice in bed, we travel to London and Paris, where the James children spent part of their unusual childhood. We sit with her around the James family’s dinner table, as she – the youngest and the only girl – listens to the intellectual elite of Boston, missing nothing. "

My Two Cents:

"Alice in Bed" is the story of Alice James, the sister of Henry and William James. Both of the brothers are well known for their contributions to literature and psychology. This book seeks to give a voice to Alice, whose own legacy has been largely overshadowed by her brothers. She is absolutely fascinating as well. I love historical fiction that gives voice to those who may be almost lost to history as Alice is. This is a fascinating portrait of a person that I was not at all familiar with before.

Alice's family is well known in the social circles of Boston. The author draws a lot on the personal letters and writing of the various characters in order to bring them to life. I especially like how the author was able to capture Alice's quick wit and sharpness throughout the book. The author captures her innermost thoughts. Alice suffers from many health issues throughout the book and it was so interesting to see how this affects the way that she sees the world. I really feel like I got to know her through this book. If you like vivid characters, Alice is for you!

The writing of the book was good. I loved that the book was told from Alice's perspective. She has a very unique way of seeing the world that made for an interesting read. The historical detail is used effectively to create a true feeling of time and place. The pace moves along rather nicely and kept me reading! I enjoyed getting to know Alice James through this book! 

Friday, May 6, 2016

Review: The Dispensable Nation: American Foreign Policy in Retreat by Vali Nasr

Title: The Dispensable Nation: American Foreign Policy in Retreat
Author: Vali Nasr
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: Doubleday
Publish Date: April 16, 2013
Source: Library

What's the Story?:

From "Vali Nasr, author of the groundbreaking The Shia Revival, worked closely with Hillary Clinton at the State Department on Afghan and Pakistani affairs. In The Dispensable Nation, he takes us behind the scenes to show how Secretary Clinton and her ally, Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, were thwarted in their efforts to guide an ambitious policy in South Asia and the Middle East. Instead, four years of presidential leadership and billions of dollars of U.S. spending failed to advance democracy and development, producing mainly rage at the United States for its perceived indifference to the fate of the region.

After taking office in 2009, the Obama administration had an opportunity to fundamentally reshape American foreign policy, Nasr argues, but its fear of political backlash and the specter of terrorism drove it to pursue the same questionable strategies as its predecessor. Meanwhile, the true economic threats to U.S. power, China and Russia, were quietly expanding their influence in places where America has long held sway. 

Nasr makes a compelling case that behind specific flawed decisions lurked a desire by the White House to pivot away from the complex problems of the Muslim world. Drawing on his unrivaled expertise in Middle East affairs and firsthand experience in diplomacy, Nasr demonstrates why turning our backs is dangerous and, what’s more, sells short American power. The United States has secured stability, promoted prosperity, and built democracy in region after region since the end of the Second World War, he reminds us, and The Dispensable Nation offers a striking vision of what it can achieve when it reclaims its bold leadership in the world."

My Two Cents:

"The Dispensable Nation" is a grim look at American foreign policy and where the author thinks that it is going . Nasr worked in the White House with Hillary Clinton as the Secretary of State and Richard Holbrooke, a much renowned foreign policy mind also in the State Department. Nasr has an axe to grind of sorts with Obama's foreign policy and for the most part, he makes a very good case throughout the book.

It was a fascinating read. It is easy to criticize things like foreign policy, which has so many moving parts and things that must be considered, from the outside. I am always more fascinated by those that have been on the front lines of making big decisions to see how they felt about the decisions that were made.

The book is broken down into different topical sections. I thought this worked really well for the subject matter in order not to overwhelm the reader. Although this book is filled with a lot of criticism for what the author sees as failings, I liked that the author also included other ways forward that should be considered by those that make and carry out foreign policy. I like books that stick with me long after the last page. This book gave me a lot to think about. It's a great read for those that have a keen interest in the difficult things that foreign policy makers face every day!


Thursday, May 5, 2016

Review: Factory Girls: From Village to City in a Changing China by Leslie T. Chang

Title: Factory Girls: From Village to City in a Changing China
Author: Leslie T. Chang
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: Spiegel & Grau
Publish Date: October 7, 2008
Source: Library

What's the Story?:

From "China has 130 million migrant workers—the largest migration in human history. In Factory Girls, Leslie T. Chang, a former correspondent for the Wall Street Journal in Beijing, tells the story of these workers primarily through the lives of two young women, whom she follows over the course of three years as they attempt to rise from the assembly lines of Dongguan, an industrial city in China’s Pearl River Delta.

As she tracks their lives, Chang paints a never-before-seen picture of migrant life—a world where nearly everyone is under thirty; where you can lose your boyfriend and your friends with the loss of a mobile phone; where a few computer or English lessons can catapult you into a completely different social class. Chang takes us inside a sneaker factory so large that it has its own hospital, movie theater, and fire department; to posh karaoke bars that are fronts for prostitution; to makeshift English classes where students shave their heads in monklike devotion and sit day after day in front of machines watching English words flash by; and back to a farming village for the Chinese New Year, revealing the poverty and idleness of rural life that drive young girls to leave home in the first place. Throughout this riveting portrait, Chang also interweaves the story of her own family’s migrations, within China and to the West, providing historical and personal frames of reference for her investigation."

My Two Cents:

"Factory Girls" is a non-fiction look at young women in China who leave their rural homes in order to forge a better life in the factory boomtowns of their country. As the book shows, the life in the big city is not always what it's cracked up to be for these young women. The hours are long. The wages are low. The work can sometimes feel like indentured servitude. This book gave me a glimpse into a world that I was not familiar with at all.

I love non-fiction books that focus on people and places that I know little to nothing about. I love getting a glimpse at how others live. Although, I love international news and politics, I had never thought about who exactly is working at all of those huge Chinese factories that so many of the goods that we use come from. This book definitely gave me an appreciation for the choices that I had as a young 20 something year old. These are not the same choices that the women in this book had.

The book follows several individuals throughout the book. I thought that this really worked well because it allowed me to step in their shoes and understand what they were going through. Perhaps more importantly, it put a human face on the factory workers and the often dismal conditions that must both work and live in. This was a fascinating look at a small facet of the world and will appeal to those who like seeing the world through someone else's eyes.


Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Review: Maisie Dobbs by Jacqueline Winspear

Title: Maisie Dobbs
Author: Jacqueline Winspear
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: Penguin
Publish Date: March 2004
Source: Library

What's the Story?:

From "Maisie Dobbs isn’t just any young housemaid. Through her own natural intelligence—and the patronage of her benevolent employers—she works her way into college at Cambridge. When World War I breaks out, Maisie goes to the front as a nurse. It is there that she learns that coincidences are meaningful and the truth elusive. After the War, Maisie sets up on her own as a private investigator. But her very first assignment, seemingly an ordinary infidelity case, soon reveals a much deeper, darker web of secrets, which will force Maisie to revisit the horrors of the Great War and the love she left behind."

My Two Cents:

"Maisie Dobbs" is the first book in the very popular Maisie Dobbs series from Jacqueline Winspear. I have been looking forward to starting this series. After reading this book, I still find myself wondering what took so long! When the book opens, World War I is sweeping through Europe and Maisie is swept up into the war as a nurse on the front. When the war ends, Maisie decides to become a private investigator, almost unheard of for a woman.

We meet a bunch of characters in this book but I really liked our heroine, Maisie. Much of the book is tying the first case that she has back to her experiences during the war. I thought it was so interesting to get glimpses of the things that she went through during the war. We get to see how she was shaped and continues to be shaped by the war.

I really liked the writing of the book. The author did a great job of pulling me into the story through lots of little details and fascinating characters. The author did a great job of keeping the mystery close at hand until the very end. I look forward to reading more in this series!


Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Blog Tour Giveaway: Modern Girls

Hello! I am very excited to be able to give away a copy of "Modern Girls" by Jennifer S. Brown! Just fill out the Rafflecopter form below (U.S. only, please!)

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Monday, May 2, 2016

Blog Tour Review: Modern Girls by Jennifer S. Brown

Title: Modern Girls
Author: Jennifer S. Brown
Format: Ebook
Publisher: NAL
Publish Date: April 5, 2016
Source: Publisher

What's the Story?:

From "In 1935, Dottie Krasinsky is the epitome of the modern girl. A bookkeeper in Midtown Manhattan, Dottie steals kisses from her steady beau, meets her girlfriends for drinks, and eyes the latest fashions. Yet at heart, she is a dutiful daughter, living with her Yiddish-speaking parents on the Lower East Side. So when, after a single careless night, she finds herself in a family way by a charismatic but unsuitable man, she is desperate: unwed, unsure, and running out of options.

After the birth of five children—and twenty years as a housewife—Dottie’s immigrant mother, Rose, is itching to return to the social activism she embraced as a young woman. With strikes and breadlines at home and National Socialism rising in Europe, there is much more important work to do than cooking and cleaning. So when she realizes that she, too, is pregnant, she struggles to reconcile her longings with her faith.

As mother and daughter wrestle with unthinkable choices, they are forced to confront their beliefs, the changing world, and the fact that their lives will never again be the same…."

My Two Cents:

"Modern Girls" starts out a little slowly and I was not sure how I was going to like the book. When we first meet Dottie, she seems a little naive and almost a little stuck-up. She fancies herself a modern woman, much more modern than her immigrant parents who she thinks are too stuck in their old country ways. When Dottie finds herself pregnant, she realizes that the world is not nearly as modern as she fancies it to be. Dottie's mother, Rose, finds herself in a situation that she doesn't want to be in. This is a story of mothers and daughters and once it got going, it blew me away. This book is full of secrets and the things that bind families together.

I really didn't like Dottie at first for some of the reasons listed in the first paragraph. I really liked how the author was able to show her growth. At the beginning of the book, Dottie is really only thinking about herself. She is very self centered. She believes that her smarts and her way with numbers will get her out of her parents' apartment and into her beau's (Abe) arms. The author quickly shows us that the best laid plans don't always get you to where you want to go.

Rose is fascinating too. She already feels like she has accomplished so much from escaping the old country. But she is still an outsider here. She spends time mostly with others who lived near her in the old country. Her English still leaves something to be desired. She is the matron of the house and she feels constrained. After taking care of so many children, she is hardly ready to start over. It was fascinating to watch her struggle with the decisions at the core of the book!

There are so many twists and turns in this book and I loved how the author kept me on my toes throughout the book. I was so pulled in by Dottie, Rose, their relationship, and the decisions they have to make. The relationship between a mother and daughter is incredibly beautiful and intricate. I thought the author did such a great job of capturing the beauty and the difficulty! What a memorable book! There seems that there could be a sequel, which I will ardently be hoping for!

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