Tuesday, February 28, 2017

HF Virtual Book Tours: Daughter of a Thousand Years by Amalia Carosella

Title: Daughter of a Thousand Years
Author: Amalia Carosella 
Format: Ebook
Publisher: Lake Union
Publish Date: February 21, 2017
Source: HF Virtual Book Tours

What's the Story?:

From Goodreads.com: "Greenland, AD 1000

More than her fiery hair marks Freydís as the daughter of Erik the Red; her hot temper and fierce pride are as formidable as her Viking father’s. And so, too, is her devotion to the great god Thor, which puts her at odds with those in power—including her own brother, the zealous Leif Eriksson. Determined to forge her own path, she defies her family’s fury and clings to her dream of sailing away to live on her own terms, with or without the support of her husband.

New Hampshire, 2016

Like her Icelandic ancestors, history professor Emma Moretti is a passionate defender of Norse mythology. But in a small town steeped in traditional values, her cultural beliefs could jeopardize both her academic career and her congressman father’s reelection. Torn between public expectation and personal identity, family and faith, she must choose which to honor and which to abandon.

In a dramatic, sweeping dual narrative that spans a millennium, two women struggle against communities determined to silence them, but neither Freydís nor Emma intends to give up without a fight."

My Two Cents:

"Daughter of a Thousand Years" is the story of two women in two different time periods. Freydis is in Greenland in the late 900s and early 1000s. She is a fervent believer in the Norse gods and is struggling to hold firm to her beliefs in light of Christianity that seems to be sweeping over her land. Pushed to defend her beliefs, Freydis will be called on to question what she will change and what she will not change to please others. 

In 2016, professor Emma is going through a challenge that echoes what Freydis faced so many years ago. She is accused of attacking Christianity, which brings into the open her struggles with hiding her pagan beliefs in order to please others such as her elected official father. As with so many dual narrative books, I definitely preferred the story line set in the past. Emma's story certainly rings true with so many of the current events happening in our world today but Freydis' world was much more interesting to me. 

Freydis as a character was also more interesting to me. Emma spends a lot of the book acting quite weak and wanting to hide rather than fight. The book opens up with her basically being dumped because she is not religious enough for her Catholic boyfriend. She also has friends and family members that seem to question her lack of adherence to religion. She doesn't really try to defend herself or stand up for her beliefs. She eventually gets there but by that point it was too little, too late for me. I did not see what she had to lose by standing up and whatever it is that she felt she might lose is barely touched on throughout the book, which frustrated me. I really wanted to know more.

Freydis, on the other hand, is an incredibly strong character. She knows what she wants and she is not afraid to defend herself. I felt like I got a much better understanding of what makes Freydis tick throughout the book. I also thought the description of her setting was much more detailed and therefore gave me a greater appreciation for the world that she was coming from and the perspective that she holds.

Overall, this was a good introduction for me to Amalia Carosella, an author that I had heard a lot about and was happy to finally get around to reading. I would love to read more of her books!

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Review: All Our Wrong Todays by Elan Mastai

Title: All Our Wrong Todays
Author: Elan Mastai
Format: ARC
Publisher: Dutton
Publish Date: February 7, 2017
Source: Publisher

What's the Story?:

From Goodreads.com: "You know the future that people in the 1950s imagined we'd have? Well, it happened. In Tom Barren's 2016, humanity thrives in a techno-utopian paradise of flying cars, moving sidewalks, and moon bases, where avocados never go bad and punk rock never existed . . . because it wasn't necessary.

Except Tom just can't seem to find his place in this dazzling, idealistic world, and that's before his life gets turned upside down. Utterly blindsided by an accident of fate, Tom makes a rash decision that drastically changes not only his own life but the very fabric of the universe itself. In a time-travel mishap, Tom finds himself stranded in our 2016, what we think of as the real world. For Tom, our normal reality seems like a dystopian wasteland.

But when he discovers wonderfully unexpected versions of his family, his career, and—maybe, just maybe—his soul mate, Tom has a decision to make. Does he fix the flow of history, bringing his utopian universe back into existence, or does he try to forge a new life in our messy, unpredictable reality? Tom’s search for the answer takes him across countries, continents, and timelines in a quest to figure out, finally, who he really is and what his future—our future—is supposed to be."

My Two Cents:

"All Our Wrong Todays" is a sci-fi story that shows the cascading effects of decisions. Tom is at a dead end. He works for an elite company that specializes in time travel in 2016. The problem is the company is owned by his father and Tom's elite job is really a pity job, which means that his co-workers who had to fight to get these jobs are almost unilaterally against him. Pushed to find a different outcome for his own life, Tom makes a decision that disrupts the whole course of the world. Will he regret it?

Tom's 2016 looks vastly different than our 2016. Imagine all of those stories about the future from the 1950s: hover crafts, flying cars, space-y looking buildings and you have what Tom's original 2016 looks like. I loved the juxtaposition between his initial 2016 and the 2016 he finds later on in the book (trying not give away the twists and turns here too much). The difference in detail was really good and makes the reader feel like they are really experiencing things along with Tom.

The world building in this book is really good. I was a little worried about this in the beginning of the book. Tom dives into a couple very technical discussions which do serve a purpose in setting the stage for the book but it's a lot of telling and not necessarily showing. It's necessary to have these things explained but makes for a dry beginning with a lot of circles. Once the context is set up, the book really takes off and makes for a great, thought-provoking read!

Overall, this is a book that I am going to be thinking about for a long time after I read the last pages. Decisions are powerful and I loved exploring how one decision changed not only Tom's life but the course of the world. 

Monday, February 20, 2017

Review: Sweet Lake by Christine Nolfi

Title: Sweet Lake
Author: Christine Nolfi 
Format: ARC
Publisher: Lake Union
Publish Date: February 28, 2017 (soon!)
Source: Publisher

What's the Story?:

From Goodreads.com: "Linnie Wayfair knows just how many people are counting on her. But knowing doesn’t make doing any easier.

Everyone in Sweet Lake, Ohio, wants her to muster all her business sense and return the Wayfair Inn to its former glory. Her parents hope she’ll forgive her scoundrel of a brother and reconcile the family. The eccentric Sweet Lake Sirens want her to open the inn—and her heart—to new possibilities. And her hilarious lifelong friends Jada and Cat are dropping none-too-subtle hints for her to ignite a romance with Daniel Kettering, the sexy attorney who’s been pining for her for years…

Now a shocking turn of events will open old wounds and upend the world Linnie has carefully built. She has to make changes quickly—and the results, though not entirely what she expected, might be what she’s been yearning for all along."

My Two Cents:

In "Sweet Lake," Linnie know that it is up to her to pick up the pieces after her brother, Freddie, leaves devastation in his wake, taking down their family-owned inn and deeply injuring the economy of the small town of Sweet Lake. It falls to Linnie to make things better for everyone even if it means giving up what she really wants to do for herself. The up side to returning to Sweet Lake is that her relationship with Daniel the lawyer may finally take off. This is a good start to a new series by Christine Nolfi that is as sweet as its title.

The characters in this book are great and I am excited to see what happens to them in future books (this is only the first in a series). Linnie is driven. She doesn't want to let anyone else down and will take on being disappointed herself if it means that she makes everything better for everyone else. It is a tough load to carry. I really felt for her because she is trying to clean up some pretty big pieces for something that she did not even have a hand in. Reading about the difficult relationship between her and Freddie was fascinating. You can see how their past has bled into the future. I thought that the author did a really good job of showing the tension between them.

I also thought that she did a good job of showing how appearances can be deceiving. Freddie in particular is not what he seems at first. I loved seeing how the perception of him changes as we get to see who he really is and that his situation is more complicated than it seemed at first.

The romance in the book is good. There is a great deal of chemistry between Linnie and Daniel. As with many romances in books, the love doesn't come easy and Linnie and Daniel's relationship is certainly a ride.

Overall, this is a good book if you like family drama, small town settings, memorable characters, and sweet romances!


Saturday, February 18, 2017

Review: That's Me Loving You by Amy Krouse Rosenthal

Title: That's Me Loving You
Author: Amy Krouse Rosenthal 
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: Random House for Young Readers
Publish Date: December 27, 2016
Source: Publisher

What's the Story?:

From Goodreads.com: "From the author of the New York Times bestseller I Wish You More comes a book that promises continuous love and makes the perfect gift for fans of Emily Winfield Martin's The Wonderful Things You Will Be and those looking for something new to add to their shelves next to the classic The Runaway Bunny.

Wherever you are,
Wherever you go,
Always remember
And always know. . .

That feeling you always have in your heart?
That's me loving you.

Amy Krouse Rosenthal captures parents’ desire to be ever-present in this simple and touching poem offering reassurance of their love. Signs of affection can be found in the natural world around us—from a soft breeze to a shimmering star."

My Two Cents:

"That's Me Loving You" is a gorgeously illustrated book about how parents are still thinking and sending love to their little ones even when they are far away. The illustrations are lovely and dreamy and really stand out in this book. The story is simple and sweet. It's a perfect bedtime story!

It had always been my plan to go back to work after I had my girls. It was a hard decision but the right one for me and my family. Even when I'm gone, I want to make sure that my girls know that I am still thinking about them and sending them love. They are too young to really get that message but they do know that their mom and dad always come back.

This is the perfect book to share with little ones to show that love can come in unexpected forms even when we are far apart!


Friday, February 17, 2017

Review: The #100 Love Notes Project: A Love Story by Hyong Yi

Title: The #100 Love Notes Project
Author: Hyong Yi
Format: Hardcover/ paperback
Publisher: Lorimer Publisher
Publish Date: January 28, 2017
Source: PR

What's the Story?:

From Goodreads.com: "Flying socks, Spanish anchovies, origami butterflies, and tarot cards comprise just a small part of the collaborative efforts that produced 100 Love Notes, the book. Here, author Hyong Yi and the 17 artists he commissioned to illustrate his 100 three-line poems share some of the insights behind their work. Together, they have illuminated a story that captured the hearts of people around the world, giving it even greater meaning and purpose.

The initial version of Hyong Yi's 100 Love Notes was launched on the streets of Charlotte, North Carolina on November 21, 2015. To honor his wife, Catherine Zanga, on the one-year anniversary of her death from ovarian cancer, Hyong and his two young children gave strangers 100 handwritten love notes, notes that chronicled Hyong and Catherine's life together, from their first meeting, to dating, marriage, children, and her death, which came far too soon."

My Two Cents:

Just a few years ago, Hyong Yi decided to celebrate his wife, who was lost to cancer very quickly, by handing out 100 love notes to people on the streets of Charlotte, NC. It was his way of taking something difficult and sad and turning it in to something beautiful. This book is a collection of all of those notes. Yi commissioned many different artists to illustrate what was in the notes, turning this book into a beautiful celebration of love.

The story between Hyong and his wife, Catherine, is beautiful. It's simple. We get to see the relationship from the very beginning where Catherine isn't sure if she wants to fall for Hyong to the very end where Catherine leaves behind Hyong and their two young children and a unit of four becomes three. It's incredibly intimate and you can feel the love that passed between these two people.

I can remember watching coverage of Hyong and his children handing out the love notes (there was a lot of news stories that covered and reported on the event) and thinking how great of a story it was. The book only hits that point home. Between Hyong's background stories on each of the letters and the artists' background stories on why they chose to illustrate the letters in the way that they did, you have a full sensory experience that will pull on your heart.

This is the kind of book that you give a loved one to remind them of all of the different ways that you can love each other. I know this book is going to be high on my gift giving list! This book shows how even the most difficult things can be turned around to create something beautiful!


Thursday, February 16, 2017

TLC Book Tours: Dragon Springs Road by Janie Chang

Title: Dragon Springs Road
Author: Janie Chang 
Format: ARC
Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks
Publish Date: January 10, 2017
Source: TLC Book Tours and HarperCollins 

What's the Story?:

From Goodreads.com: "In 1908, Jialing is only seven years old when she is abandoned in the courtyard of a once-lavish estate outside Shanghai. Jialing is zazhong—Eurasian—and faces a lifetime of contempt from both Chinese and Europeans. Until now she’s led a secluded life behind courtyard walls, but without her mother’s protection, she can survive only if the estate’s new owners, the Yang family, agree to take her in.

Jialing finds allies in Anjuin, the eldest Yang daughter, and Fox, an animal spirit who has lived in the courtyard for centuries. But Jialing’s life as the Yangs’ bondservant changes unexpectedly when she befriends a young English girl who then mysteriously vanishes.

Murder, political intrigue, jealousy, forbidden love … Jialing confronts them all as she grows into womanhood during the tumultuous early years of the Chinese republic, always hopeful of finding her long-lost mother. Through every turn she is guided, both by Fox and by her own strength of spirit, away from the shadows of her past toward a very different fate, if she has the courage to accept it."

My Two Cents:

"Dragon Springs Road" is the story of Jialing who is abandoned by her mother (who Jialing fears may be gone forever) to the family that moves into the compound where they lived. Luckily the family is kind to Jialing and she is allowed to live there with a Fox spirit who sometimes appears as a literal fox and sometimes as a gorgeous woman. It is the early 1900s in China and the country is changing rapidly. This book is a historical fiction with a healthy dose of magical realism.

While the story line itself was very good and interesting, this book was a mixed bag for me and felt a little uneven. It took me awhile to get into the story. There was a lot of set up that goes into the story and it moved quite slowly. By about the last third of the book, there is a ton happening and it all happens very quickly as if the writer were in a rush to end the book. The very end itself seems like there may be an opening for a sequel, which would be welcome to tie up the remaining loose ends.

I don't read nearly enough historical fiction set in Asia. I was swept up in the description of the setting. Jialing has spent most of her life in the same house with a big, beautiful garden and the Fox spirit that her mother prays to. As the story goes on, the garden changes to reflect the events of the book, which I thought was a really cool device. I loved the descriptions of both of the houses on the compound.

I also loved the descriptions of what life was like during that time period in China. As I mentioned before, this is a time when things are changing rapidly. As Jialing is mixed race, she is sent to mission school to learn English, which will hopefully help her in the future as she has no true family. There are a lot of political implications that are referred to in the book, which was a nice taste of a history that I don't visit in my reading all that often.

Overall, this story was good even if they way that it was told was uneven.


Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Review: Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking: A Memoir of Food and Longing by Anya von Bremzen

Title: Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking: A Memoir of Food and Longing
Author: Anya von Bremzen
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: Crown
Publish Date: September 17, 2013
Source: Library

What's the Story?:

From Goodreads.com: "Proust had his madeleine; Narnia's Edmund had his Turkish delight. Anya von Bremzen has vobla-rock-hard, salt-cured dried Caspian roach fish. Lovers of vobla risk breaking a tooth or puncturing a gum on the once-popular snack, but for Anya it's transporting. Like kotleti (Soviet burgers) or the festive Salat Olivier, it summons up the complex, bittersweet flavors of life in that vanished Atlantis called the USSR. There, born in 1963 in a Kafkaesque communal apartment where eighteen families shared one kitchen, Anya grew up singing odes to Lenin, black-marketeering Juicy Fruit gum at her school, and, like most Soviet citizens, longing for a taste of the mythical West. It was a life by turns absurd, drab, naively joyous, melancholy-and, finally, intolerable to her anti-Soviet mother. When she was ten, the two of them fled the political repression of Brezhnev-era Russia, arriving in Philadelphia with no winter coats and no right of return.

These days Anya lives in two parallel food universes: one in which she writes about four-star restaurants, the other in which a simple banana-a once a year treat back in the USSR-still holds an almost talismanic sway over her psyche. To make sense of that past, she and her mother decided to eat and cook their way through seven decades of the Soviet experience. Through the meals she and her mother re-create, Anya tells the story of three generations-her grandparents', her mother's, and her own. Her family's stories are embedded in a larger historical epic: of Lenin's bloody grain requisitioning, World War II hunger and survival, Stalin's table manners, Khrushchev's kitchen debates, Gorbachev's anti-alcohol policies, and the ultimate collapse of the USSR. And all of it is bound together by Anya's sardonic wit, passionate nostalgia, and piercing observations."

My Two Cents:

"Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking" is a memoir of family and food. The author grew up in the USSR and has many fond memories of the food there and of another time and place where a simple piece of fruit becomes a true treasure. Eventually she emigrates to the United States and what she has left of the Soviet Union is only in her and her family's minds.

In this book, she looks back on her and her family's history against the larger history of the Soviet Union and the foods that played a role during each decade. The book is broken down by decade, which I really liked. It was interesting to see the author's family's history (which I obviously did not know before reading this book) juxtaposed against the history of the country (which I do know). It made the pure history feel a little more intimate and personal. This was a new view of the history that I had not seen before.

The writing of the book was good. The author does a lot to show that although life was difficult under Soviet rule, there were still some small pleasures and ways to escape through a small bit of candy or a banana. It is easy to lose sight that between the big events of history, there are still bits of every-day life where people were simply living. This book would be a great pick for those that understand that sometimes its the food that makes a place.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Review: I Am Malala: The Story of the Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban by Malala Yousafzai, Christina Lamb

Title: I Am Malala: The Story of the Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban
Author: Malala Yousafzai, Christina Lamb
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: Little, Brown, and Company
Publish Date: October 8, 2013
Source: Owned

What's the Story?:

From Goodreads.com: "When the Taliban took control of the Swat Valley in Pakistan, one girl spoke out. Malala Yousafzai refused to be silenced and fought for her right to an education.

On Tuesday, October 9, 2012, when she was fifteen, she almost paid the ultimate price. She was shot in the head at point-blank range while riding the bus home from school, and few expected her to survive. 

Instead, Malala's miraculous recovery has taken her on an extraordinary journey from a remote valley in northern Pakistan to the halls of the United Nations in New York. At sixteen, she has become a global symbol of peaceful protest and the youngest-ever Nobel Peace Prize laureate."

My Two Cents:

At this point, you have probably heard of Malala Yousafzai. She is the young schoolgirl who just a few years ago was shot by the Taliban while she was just trying to attend school. Her story has inspired people around the world to stand up for educating all children. Education is the greatest gift one can receive. This book is truly inspirational!

Being able to do something like attend school is something that I definitely take for granted being an American. I was very easily able to go to elementary middle and high school and then go on to get an undergrad degree and a Masters degree with absolutely no one questioning me about my ability or need to go to school. As Malala's story shows, this is not something that is open to all women and girls around the world. Although her family was incredibly supportive of her going to school, the powers within her country were not supportive. Even though I believe in the power of education, being in a country where education is cracked down upon might have made me think twice about trying to be educated.

The book goes through her story and of her shooting and also of her recovery. It also covers a lot of the amazing things that she was able to do after her recovery. Many people would've just turned and tried to hide but she really continue to put herself out there and to hopefully make strides for other women and girls worldwide. This is an incredibly inspiring story and one that shows that through dedication and sheer will, it's possible to start to change the tide for many people worldwide.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Review: A Country Between: Making a Home Where Both Sides of Jerusalem Collide by Stephanie Saldana

Title: A Country Between: Making a Home Where Both Sides of Jerusalem Collide
Author: Stephanie Saldana
Format: ARC
Publisher: Sourcebooks
Publish Date: February 7, 2017
Source: Publisher

What's the Story?:

From Goodreads.com: "When American writer Stephanie Saldana finds herself in an empty house at the beginning of Nablus Road, the dividing line between East and West Jerusalem, she is a new wife trying to navigate a fragile terrain, both within her marriage and throughout the country in which she has chosen to live.

Pregnant with her first child, Stephanie struggles to protect her family, their faith, and herself from the cracks of Middle Eastern conflict that threaten to shatter the world around her. But as her due date approaches, she must reconcile herself with her choice to bring a child into a dangerous world. Determined to piece together life from the brokenness, she sets out to uncover small instances of beauty to balance the delicate coexistence between love, motherhood, and a country so often at war."

My Two Cents:

In "A Country Between," Stephanie and her husband (their love story alone could have made a whole 'nother book) make a new life in Jerusalem. It's a gorgeous exploration of the historic city that has been so marked by fighting. It's a place of different groups of people pressing against each other and trying to carve out their own place. It's also an incredibly personal story of love and of building a life together. Filled with gorgeous prose, this book brought me to tears by the end - a certain feat!

This book is written as a letter to their first son, Joseph, talking about their new life in this city. Stephanie and her husband never set off to live in Jerusalem but it was as if it called to them. I loved the descriptions of the places in the book. Jerusalem is definitely some place that I would love to visit today and I would love to visit it even more after reading the vivid descriptions in this book. I really loved the descriptions of the people that become the family's family abroad. There are so many different people that make up the fabric of the author's experience.

The writing of the book is gorgeous. There is the travel aspect of the book certainly but there is also a very personal family-oriented bend to the book. There is the love between Stephanie and her husband. The description of how they fall in love is just gorgeous. There were also a lot of good passages on being a parent and the kind of love that relationship between a parent and child imparts. These are the parts that made me teary - so very vivid for someone who is a parent themselves!

This was a great book with great writing! I would love to read more by Saldana in the future!


Thursday, February 9, 2017

TLC Book Tours: The Wicked City by Beatriz Williams

Title: The Wicked City
Author: Beatriz Williams
Format: ARC
Publisher: William Morrow
Publish Date: January 17, 2017
Source: TLC Book Tours and HarperCollins

What's the Story?:

From Goodreads.com: "When she discovers her husband cheating, Ella Hawthorne impulsively moves out of their SoHo loft and into a small apartment in an old Greenwich Village building. Her surprisingly attractive new neighbor, Hector, warns her to stay out of the basement at night. Tenants have reported strange noises after midnight—laughter, clinking glasses, jazz piano—even though the space has been empty for decades. Back in the Roaring Twenties, the place hid a speakeasy.

In 1924, Geneva "Gin" Kelly, a smart-mouthed flapper from the hills of western Maryland, is a regular at this Village hideaway known as the Christopher Club. Caught up in a raid, Gin becomes entangled with Prohibition enforcement agent Oliver Anson, who persuades her to help him catch her stepfather Duke Kelly, one of Appalachia’s most notorious bootleggers.

Headstrong and independent, Gin is no weak-kneed fool. So how can she be falling in love with the taciturn, straight-arrow Revenue agent when she’s got Princeton boy Billy Marshall, the dashing son of society doyenne Theresa Marshall, begging to make an honest woman of her? While anything goes in the Roaring Twenties, Gin’s adventures will shake proper Manhattan society to its foundations, exposing secrets that shock even this free-spirited redhead—secrets that will echo from Park Avenue to the hollers of her Southern hometown.

As Ella discovers more about the basement speakeasy, she becomes inspired by the spirit of her exuberant predecessor, and decides to live with abandon in the wicked city too. . . "

My Two Cents:

"The Wicked City" is a story told in two times. Ella lives in present day New York City. She has just moved into an old building in Greenwich Village after finding her husband cheating. She is about to discover that the building that she is living in is hiding greater secrets than she initially imagined. Gin is a young woman on the run from her not very glamorous beginnings. Both of these women feel like they are missing something. This book explores if they'll find it. 

I know that I am in pretty good hands when it comes to Beatriz Williams and her historical fiction. This book is no different. I was really excited about having at least one part of the book set in the 1920s, a decade that is always a treat for this reader! I loved, loved, loved how Williams was able to capture the dialogue of Gin and her contemporaries. The 1920s had some of the most interesting slang and speech patterns. By pulling this in, it really made the characters in Gin's time feel real. The detail here is great.

As with so many of the books split between the past and the present, I was much more attracted to the past story. The detail was better. Gin as a character glowed much more than Ella (although Ella eventually turns a corner as the book goes on). Gin's story and personality were much more interesting to me. I found myself always wanting to get back to her sections of the narrative, which did make the book feel a bit uneven for me.

Overall, the book was good and will thrill historical fiction lovers who love a healthy dose of romance in their reading.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Review: The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood

Title: The Handmaid's Tale
Author: Margaret Atwood
Format: Paperback
Publisher: Anchor Books
Publish Date: 1986
Source: Owned

What's the Story?:

From Goodreads.com: "Offred is a Handmaid in the Republic of Gilead. She may leave the home of the Commander and his wife once a day to walk to food markets whose signs are now pictures instead of words because women are no longer allowed to read. She must lie on her back once a month and pray that the Commander makes her pregnant, because in an age of declining births, Offred and the other Handmaids are valued only if their ovaries are viable. Offred can remember the years before, when she lived and made love with her husband, Luke; when she played with and protected her daughter; when she had a job, money of her own, and access to knowledge. But all of that is gone now..."

My Two Cents:

"The Handmaid's Tale" is the classic dystopian story of a future where women have no choice of their station in life when it comes to reproduction. The population rate is falling rapidly and it is up to the fertile young women to repopulate this strange new country. Our heroine, Offred, is a handmaid for one of the commanders. She is forced to procreate with the commander or have to be moved on. Men hold all of the control in this world. Women hold nothing.

The last time I read this book was way back in high school. In light of current events, I had to pick it up again. I think it hit me even harder as an adult between watching all that is going on in the news lately and being a mother who got to choose when she became a mother. Not only is it reproductive rights that you think about reading this book but what really struck me is how Offred explains how this crackdown and paradigm shift happened: so slowly that they didn't realize how bad things were until they got really bad. While this is obviously an extreme version, it has a point about paying attention to the world around you and engaging before its too late to engage. The way that Offred explains this descent into totalitarianism is certainly sobering: there isn't one large event but many, many smaller events that add up to this new world.

It is no wonder that so many people are picking up this book now. It's definitely worth both a first and second look. Atwood is masterful at weaving an incredibly vivid story and world. This book has remained popular for good reason!


Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Review: The Impossible Fortress by Jason Rekulak

Title: The Impossible Fortress 
Author: Jason Rekulak
Format: eARC
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Publish Date: February 7, 2017 (Today!)
Source: Publisher

What's the Story?:

From Goodreads.com: "
Billy Marvin’s first love was a computer. Then he met Mary Zelinsky.

Do you remember your first love?

The Impossible Fortress begins with a magazine…The year is 1987 and Playboy has just published scandalous photographs of Vanna White, from the popular TV game show Wheel of Fortune. For three teenage boys—Billy, Alf, and Clark—who are desperately uneducated in the ways of women, the magazine is somewhat of a Holy Grail: priceless beyond measure and impossible to attain. So, they hatch a plan to steal it."

My Two Cents:

"The Impossible Fortress" is a story about that awkward first love and video games. It's the 1980s and Billy is a 14 year old boy with dreams of being a great video game designer. He is utterly and thoroughly obsessed. His friends are obsessed with getting their hands on the Playboy that has the nude pictures of Vanna White. Both of these desires will clash in this book in a thoroughly entertaining book. This is a fun love letter to the 1980s!

Although I was just a little kid for the part of the 80s that I've lived through, I still love the pop culture that permeated the decade. Billy and his friends recall so many of the movies of the time that I've seen. I loved all of the schemes that they go through in the book. Their trio is a group of constant hustle - they always seem to have a way to make them money or notoriety or both. I loved following their adventures in this book.

As much as I liked the hijinks of Billy and his friends, I loved the relationship between Billy and Mary. At first, Billy just sees Mary as someone that can help him with his latest video game but he begins to see her as something more. Mary is such a great character. She is strong, secure, and sure of herself. She is no shrinking violet and she seems like such a good fit for Billy. Of course, in a book like this, love is not without its trials and tribulations. I loved the way the author wrote their relationship. Both of the characters have so much detail that they truly stand on their own. You are pulling for them the whole way.


Monday, February 6, 2017

Review: Caught in the Revolution: Petrograd, Russia, 1917 – A World on the Edge by Helen Rappaport

Title: Caught in the Revolution: Petrograd, Russia, 1917 – A World on the Edge 
Author: Helen Rappaport
Format: ARC
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Publish Date: February 7, 2017 (Tomorrow!)
Source: Publisher

What's the Story?:

From Goodreads.com: "Between the first revolution in February 1917 and Lenin’s Bolshevik coup in October, Petrograd (the former St Petersburg) was in turmoil – felt nowhere more keenly than on the fashionable Nevsky Prospekt. There, the foreign visitors who filled hotels, clubs, bars and embassies were acutely aware of the chaos breaking out on their doorsteps and beneath their windows.

Among this disparate group were journalists, diplomats, businessmen, bankers, governesses, volunteer nurses and expatriate socialites. Many kept diaries and wrote letters home: from an English nurse who had already survived the sinking of the Titanic; to the black valet of the US Ambassador, far from his native Deep South; to suffragette leader Emmeline Pankhurst, who had come to Petrograd to inspect the indomitable Women’s Death Battalion led by Maria Bochkareva.

Helen Rappaport draws upon this rich trove of material, much of it previously unpublished, to carry us right up to the action – to see, feel and hear the Revolution as it happened to an assortment of individuals who suddenly felt themselves trapped in a "red madhouse.""

My Two Cents:

In 1917, 100 years ago this year, revolution broke out across Russia. In "Caught in the Revolution," Helen Rappaport looks at the effects of the revolution on one city: Petrograd (a.k.a. St. Petersburg). It was amazing to see how quickly things changed as well as to have a reminder of the course of events that took Russia from the fall of the Tsar to the new government.

Sure, there are a lot of history books that cover Russia during this time period. What makes this book really a great history is the first hand narratives that Rappaport draws from to write the book. By drawing on letters, diaries, and a variety of other narratives, Rappaport is able to not only pinpoint exactly where people were when they witnessed this shift in history but what they were witnessing and what they were feeling. It really made the history feel more personal while still being incredibly informative. You get such a good sense of place and can really picture what is happening throughout the book.

I love history books even if it just a run down of events but having the first hand narratives make the history so much more real. This book would be great for those that don't have a familiarity with the history of this revolution as well as those that already have a familiarity with the Russian Revolution but are looking for a different and more intimate look at the events that changed the world.  

Friday, February 3, 2017

Review: Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void by Mary Roach

Title: Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void 
Author: Mary Roach
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: W.W. Norton and Co.
Publish Date: August 2, 2010
Source: Library

What's the Story?:

From Goodreads.com: "Space is a world devoid of the things we need to live and thrive: air, gravity, hot showers, fresh produce, privacy, beer. Space exploration is in some ways an exploration of what it means to be human. How much can a person give up? How much weirdness can they take? What happens to you when you can’t walk for a year? have sex? smell flowers? What happens if you vomit in your helmet during a space walk? Is it possible for the human body to survive a bailout at 17,000 miles per hour?

To answer these questions, space agencies set up all manner of quizzical and startlingly bizarre space simulations. As Mary Roach discovers, it’s possible to preview space without ever leaving Earth. From the space shuttle training toilet to a crash test of NASA’s new space capsule (cadaver filling in for astronaut), Roach takes us on a surreally entertaining trip into the science of life in space and space on Earth."

My Two Cents:

"Packing for Mars" is yet another book by Mary Roach. Mary roach is definitely one of my favorite science writers. She has the ability to take a topic that on its face seems like it could get pretty technical and therefore pretty boring quickly and turn it into something that's accessible for anyone who is simply interested in science.

In "Packing for Mars," Roach looks at all of the different things that NASA has done in order to take people and put them where they don't belong: space. As she puts it in the book, astronauts are merely an inconvenience for the NASA scientists. Without the astronauts they wouldn't have to to figure out how to keep people breathing and healthy. The human body is made up of a bunch of complicated systems that can easily go haywire when exposed to extreme environments and what would be a more extreme environment than space? 

Enter Roach's trademark style of going to infinity and beyond to explore all of the different aspects of what it takes to get people in space and keep them healthy enough to land them back down on earth. Roach relies on first-hand interviews in order to talk to a lot of the people who are on the front line of getting people up into space. As somebody who as a child wanted to be an astronaut, I found this book to be endlessly interesting! This was definitely a good read!


Thursday, February 2, 2017

2017 Reading Challenges - January Check In

Here we are one month into my new reading year! Let's see how I'm doing. Here is the original post about all of the reading challenges I'm taking on. The date listed after each book is the date I completed the book.

PopSugar Monthly Challenge
  • January (A book with one of the four seasons in the title ): Winter's Bone by Daniel Woodrell (1/25)

 PopSugar Ultimate Reading Challenge Basic
  •  A book recommended by a librarian: The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt (1/19)
  • A book you loved as a child: Matilda by Roald Dahl (1/12)

Pop Sugar Ultimate Reading Challenge Advanced 
  • A book about an immigrant or refugee: The Radius of Us by Marie Marquadt (1/23)

Book Riot's Read Harder Challenge
  • Read a debut novel: The Thousandth Floor by Katharine McGee (1/6)
  • Read an all ages comic: Scenes from an Impending Marriage by Adrian Tomine (1/14)
  • Read a book you've read before: The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood (1/19)
  • Read a book about war: Stolen Beauty by Laurie Lico Albanese (1/29)
  • Wintersong by S. Jae-Jones (1/31)

Curious Iguana's Read Broader
  • Peek into the Past: Putin Country by Anne Garrels (1/7)
Challenge Totals:
  • January: 10 books
 How did it go this month?

Pretty good! 10 books is a solid start in my opinion. I've found that I read broader than I thought I did. It hasn't been too challenging to find categories for the books that I've read this month. I'm sure that will get a little harder as the months go on!

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Review: Wintersong by S. Jae-Jones

Title: Wintersong
Author: S. Jae-Jones
Format: Ebook
Publisher: Thomas Dunne
Publish Date: February 7, 2017
Source: Publisher

What's the Story?:

From Goodreads.com: "All her life, nineteen-year-old Liesl has heard tales of the beautiful, mysterious Goblin King. He is the Lord of Mischief, the Ruler Underground, and the muse around which her music is composed. Yet, as Liesl helps shoulder the burden of running her family’s inn, her dreams of composition and childish fancies about the Goblin King must be set aside in favor of more practical concerns.

But when her sister Käthe is taken by the goblins, Liesl journeys to their realm to rescue her sister and return her to the world above. The Goblin King agrees to let Käthe go—for a price. The life of a maiden must be given to the land, in accordance with the old laws. A life for a life, he says. Without sacrifice, nothing good can grow. Without death, there can be no rebirth. In exchange for her sister’s freedom, Liesl offers her hand in marriage to the Goblin King. He accepts.

Down in the Underground, Liesl discovers that the Goblin King still inspires her—musically, physically, emotionally. Yet even as her talent blossoms, Liesl’s life is slowly fading away, the price she paid for becoming the Goblin King’s bride. As the two of them grow closer, they must learn just what it is they are each willing to sacrifice: her life, her music, or the end of the world."

My Two Cents:

In "Wintersong," it is the late 1800s and Liesl is a young adult haunted by music and the Goblin King. She is the plain sister. Her sister Kathe is the beauty. Her beloved brother is the one that their parents push to become a musician as they believe it is more of a job for a male rather than a female. Liesl is the one that composes the gorgeous music that Josef plays and that enchants the Goblin King to make Liesl his bride. Inspired by the movie "The Labyrinth," this is a fantastical story of love, passion, and music.

So first off, this story is inspired by The Labyrinth, which was one of my favorite movies as a young one, but it is not exactly like The Labyrinth. There are no Jim Henson puppets here. The Goblin King still fits the mold of David Bowie's character in the movie. Many of the rules of The Labyrinth are still in play in this book but the author only uses that world as a jumping off point for weaving this great story. 

World-building is always important to me in genres like fantasy and this book definitely has it. You don't need to have seen The Labyrinth in order to understand the world of the Goblin King. The author weaves in a lot of detail to make the world come alive for readers. I loved the way that the author was able to make this fantasy world become realistic. 

The writing of the book is also really good. There are some really beautiful turns of phrase in this book that made for great reading. There are many passages that will stick in my mind long after I closed this book. 

Overall, this was a great story and an impressive debut. It is billed as being a young adult book and may be most appropriate for older young adult readers based on some of the aspects of the relationship between Liesl and the Goblin King. 

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