Friday, March 31, 2017

Review: The Book of Polly by Kathy Hepinstall

Title: The Book of Polly 
Author: Kathy Hepinstall
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: Pamela Dorman Books
Publish Date: March 14, 2017
Source: Publisher

What's the Story?:

From "Willow Havens is ten years old and obsessed with the fear that her mother will die. Her mother, Polly, is a cantankerous, take-no-prisoners Southern woman who lives to shoot varmints, drink margaritas, and antagonize the neighbors and she sticks out like a sore thumb among the young modern mothers of their small conventional Texas town. She was in her late fifties when Willow was born, so Willow knows she's here by accident, a late-life afterthought. Willow's father died before she was born, her much older brother and sister are long grown and gone and failing elsewhere. It's just her and bigger-than-life Polly.

Willow is desperately hungry for clues to the family life that preceded her, and especially Polly's life pre-Willow. Why did she leave her hometown of Bethel, Louisiana, fifty years ago and vow never to return? Who is Garland Jones, her long-ago suitor who possibly killed a man? And will Polly be able to outrun the Bear, the illness that finally puts her on a collision course with her past?"

My Two Cents:

In "The Book of Polly," Willow is a young teenager who is dying to put together the mysteries of her mother's past before she loses her mother, which she constantly fears. Polly had Willow when she was in her late fifties and became a widow soon after. Since her other two kids are grown and out of the house, it is just Polly and Willow. Can Willow figure out Polly's secrets before its too late?

Polly is the kind of character that you remember long after you close a book. She reminds me a lot of some of Fredrik Backman's characters (high praise coming from me). She's eccentric and grumpy. She scolds Willow for doing something naughty or mischievous while paying Willow a dollar for doing the very same thing that she is scolding her for. Being a southern woman, Polly has a very certain way of interacting with the world that is endearing and pretty funny at times. I felt for Willow and thought the author did a great job of showing what a teenager would be going through as the child of the larger-than-life Polly.

The secondary characters in this book are great as well. My favorite is Phoenix, the friend of Willow's brother who is absolutely entranced with Polly and would do anything for her. He causes and eggs on a lot of the madcap adventures in this book.

This is a fun book with a lot of heart and a lot of love under the surface! I really enjoyed it.  

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Review: The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

Title: The Girl on the Train
Author: Paula Hawkins
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: Riverhead Books
Publish Date: January 13, 2015
Source: Owned

What's the Story?:

Rachel takes the same commuter train every morning and night. Every day she rattles down the track, flashes past a stretch of cozy suburban homes, and stops at the signal that allows her to daily watch the same couple breakfasting on their deck. She’s even started to feel like she knows them. Jess and Jason, she calls them. Their life—as she sees it—is perfect. Not unlike the life she recently lost.

And then she sees something shocking. It’s only a minute until the train moves on, but it’s enough. Now everything’s changed. Unable to keep it to herself, Rachel goes to the police. But is she really as unreliable as they say? Soon she is deeply entangled not only in the investigation but in the lives of everyone involved. Has she done more harm than good?"

My Two Cents:

Before the movie came out, I read "The Girl on the Train." Ever since reading "Gone Girl," I feel like I've been chasing the high of a good thriller. "The Girl on the Train" is one of those books that comes quite close. In this book, Rachel's life is falling apart and she feels that she must take the train everyday still in order to add just the barest amount of predictability back to her life. One day she sees something out the window of the train that will make her question everything she thinks and shows that sometimes the imagination can derail everything.

I found this book fascinating because as a fan of public transportation, I thought it was so interesting that Rachel looks out at the houses that she sees along her train route and makes up stories about the people that she sees. I do that too. Obviously in Rachel's case it doesn't work out very well but this book wouldn't be a thriller without it not working well. Rachel is an unreliable narrator, which makes this book especially engaging.

The writing of the book is good. I think Hawkins does a great job of keeping us in suspense as to whether or not we can actually believe Rachel or if she is nearly unreliable narrator who is hiding something. This book has a lot of twists, turns, and layers that I really liked. I think that the other does a good job of keeping you in suspense so that you want to continue to read the book. I know that I will be anxious to see what else Hawkins comes out with next!


Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Review: Havana Real by Yoani Sánchez

Title: Havana Real
Author: Yoani Sánchez
Format: Paperback
Publisher: Melville House
Publish Date: April 26, 2011
Source: Library

What's the Story?:

From "Yoani Sánchez is an unusual dissident: no street protests, no attacks on big politicos, no calls for revolution. Rather, she produces a simple diary about what it means to live under the Castro regime: the chronic hunger and the difficulty of shopping; the art of repairing ancient appliances; and the struggles of living under a propaganda machine that pushes deep into public and private life.

For these simple acts of truth-telling her life is one of constant threat. But she continues on, refusing to be silenced—a living response to all who have ceased to believe in a future for Cuba."

My Two Cents:

"Havana Real" is a book based on a blog by Yoani Sanchez, an outspoken critic of the Cuban government. As an American, Cuba has always been this untouchable place. Being a student of politics and history, I understood why this was and wondered if I would ever see the relationship between our countries change. Since this book was written, politics have changed quite a bit. It remains to be seen what the relationship between our two countries will be like under the new Presidential administration. This book is best looked at as a capture of a certain time and place in a certain Cuba. It gives context to where the country has been as well as where it may be going.

This book came out in 2011 and is made up of blogs written before then so some of the information does feel a bit outdated. This is obviously not the fault of the book but the fault of the time that I am reading it. Things have certainly changed. This book is a collection of blogs that Sanchez wrote over a long period of time and each gives insight into what is going on at the time.

The writing of this book is what makes the story. Sanchez is unafraid of telling the truth without mincing words. At the time she is writing, that could have easily gotten her in trouble. The blogs are blogs. They don't necessarily connect to each other and there is no background or context for them, which made the book feel a bit disjointed and jumpy.

Overall, this was a good collection of glimpses into normal lives of Cubans during the mid-2000s.


Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Review: Lies We Tell Ourselves by Robin Talley

Title: Lies We Tell Ourselves
Author: Robin Talley
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: Harlequin Teen
Publish Date: September 30, 2014
Source: Library

What's the Story?:

From "In 1959 Virginia, the lives of two girls on opposite sides of the battle for civil rights will be changed forever.

Sarah Dunbar is one of the first black students to attend the previously all-white Jefferson High School. An honors student at her old school, she is put into remedial classes, spit on and tormented daily.

Linda Hairston is the daughter of one of the town's most vocal opponents of school integration. She has been taught all her life that the races should be kept separate but equal.

Forced to work together on a school project, Sarah and Linda must confront harsh truths about race, power and how they really feel about one another."

My Two Cents:

"Lies We Tell Ourselves" is a historical fiction story that takes place in 1959 Virginia. Schools are just becoming desegregated and as Virginia is in the south, desegregation does not come as easily as it should. The high school where Sarah and Linda attend is especially having difficulty integrating the school peacefully. Sarah is one of the first black students to ever go to this particular high school. Linda is white and her parents to believe that school should not be desegregated.

Going to school where everyone didn't look the same as I did is something that I have always taken for granted. I went to school in Maryland, Virginia's next-door neighbor so seeing what it was like so close to where I grew up just a few decades ago really hit home for me. The news today still has strong undertones of various groups feeling like they are superior to others and wanting to be separate. This book shows us how far we've come but how far we still have to go is striking.

I think it is so important for everyone, particularly young people, to remember that things now are not the way that they were in the past. When you see schools today they're much different than they were back in the late 1950s. It's important for people to remember that there used to be segregation and that it took a long time for schools to come to where they are today.

There is a lot of tough subject matter in this book and the author handles it well without beating the reader over the head so much that the book becomes uninteresting. I think it's so important for young adult fiction to tackle some of these difficult subjects like racism as well as LGBT rights. I thought that the author did a great job of leading the reader throughout this book in a way that makes them both interested in and understanding of the struggles of these characters without hitting people over the head with the lessons found within this book. This was a good story even for those like me who are a little older than the group that this YA book is geared for.


Monday, March 27, 2017

Review: It Happens All the Time by Amy Hatvany

Title: It Happens All the Time
Author: Amy Hatvany
Publisher: Atria
Publish Date: March 28, 2017
Source: Publisher

What's the Story?:

From "Amber Bryant and Tyler Hicks have been best friends since they were teenagers—trusting and depending on each other through some of the darkest periods of their young lives. And while Amber has always felt that their relationship is strictly platonic, Tyler has long harbored the secret desire that they might one day become more than friends.

Returning home for the summer after her college graduation, Amber begins spending more time with Tyler than she has in years. Despite the fact that Amber is engaged to her college sweetheart, a flirtation begins to grow between them. One night, fueled by alcohol and concerns about whether she’s getting married too young, Amber kisses Tyler.

What happens next will change them forever."

My Two Cents:

"It Happens All the Time" is the story of Amber and Tyler. They have been friends for years and Tyler has always had a thing for Amber. Amber can't see anything ever happening romantically with Tyler; he's her best friend and that is the way that she wants it to stay. Tyler becomes a paramedic in their hometown and Amber graduates from college and comes home to work for the summer. She comes home engaged, which makes Tyler incredibly jealous and sad. He has a choice of what he does when it comes to Amber and what he does next will break everything.

One of the things that I love about books so much is that they give you the ability to see really difficult subjects through the eyes of someone going through them. This is one of those books. Told from both Amber and Tyler's perspectives, this book sheds light on both rape and sexual assault. Both characters see the same situation very differently, which is scary when the situation is so serious and someone gets so badly hurt. I think it is important for books to tackle subjects like this!

The writing of the book was good. The story is told from both Amber and Tyler's perspectives. They see what happens on one night when they were both very drunk very differently. Amber is raped. Tyler can't believe that he would rape his best friend and is severe denial. It was so interesting to see how the characters see things and what makes them tick and make the decisions they make throughout the book. I did want to know more about how Tyler is able to absolve himself from what he did but then again, what reason could there really have been. Overall, this was a very powerful book.  

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Review: Our Own Private Universe by Robin Talley

Title: Our Own Private Universe
Author: Robin Talley
Format: ARC
Publisher: Harlequin Teen
Publish Date: January 31, 2017
Source: PR

What's the Story?:

From "Fifteen-year-old Aki Simon has a theory. And it's mostly about sex.

No, it isn't that kind of theory. Aki already knows she's bisexual—even if, until now, it's mostly been in the hypothetical sense. Aki has dated only guys so far, and her best friend, Lori, is the only person who knows she likes girls, too.

Actually, Aki's theory is that she's got only one shot at living an interesting life—and that means she's got to stop sitting around and thinking so much. It's time for her to actually do something. Or at least try.

So when Aki and Lori set off on a church youth-group trip to a small Mexican town for the summer and Aki meets Christa—slightly older, far more experienced—it seems her theory is prime for the testing.

But it's not going to be easy. For one thing, how exactly do two girls have sex, anyway? And more important, how can you tell if you're in love? It's going to be a summer of testing theories—and the result may just be love."

My Two Cents:

"Our Own Private Universe" is another book by Robin Talley. It takes place in the present day when few groups of teenage churchgoers go to Mexico to help out in the community. Aki is the preacher's daughter and has just figured out that she may be bisexual. She falls in love with Christa, a girl who seems to have a little more experience. Both of them will have to come to terms with what it means to be "out" even if those in their church or their families don't understand or support it.

I've enjoyed Talley's other books. This one was just okay for me. There was a little bit of stereotyping in the book that really took me out of the book and made me wonder if the stereotyping came from the characters in the book simply being naïve and not having been not having been around a lot of gay people before because of the kind of social circle that they're in their church or what. For instance, Aki justifies thinking that a secondary character in the book is gay because she wears board shorts everywhere.

As with Talley's other books, this book had a focus on some serious topics. One of the stand out topics in this book was the focus on safe sex. Aki really wants to make sure that the sex she has with Christa is safe. The book points out that Aki is totally perplexed by what constitutes safe sex between two females as all of the sex ed she had in school focused on male/ female sex. I appreciated the way that the author tried to teach this lesson. It was a bit overwrought but the point certainly gets across. I do think it's important for young adult readers to be able to encounter all sorts of subjects through their reading and can appreciate where Talley was trying to go. 


Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Review: Girl in Disguise by Greer Macallister

Title: Girl in Disguise
Author: Greer Macallister 
Format: ARC
Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark
Publish Date: March 21, 2017 (Today!)
Source: Publisher

What's the Story?:

From "For the first female Pinkerton detective, respect is hard to come by. Danger, however, is not.

In the tumultuous years of the Civil War, the streets of Chicago offer a woman mostly danger and ruin-unless that woman is Kate Warne, the first female Pinkerton detective and a desperate widow with a knack for manipulation.

Descending into undercover operations, Kate is able to infiltrate the seedy side of the city in ways her fellow detectives can't. She's a seductress, an exotic foreign medium, or a rich train passenger, all depending on the day and the robber, thief, or murderer she's been assigned to nab."

My Two Cents:

"Girl in Disguise" is the story of Kate, who lives in the mid-1800s and suddenly finds herself a widow in the middle of Chicago. Being a widow at this time was incredibly difficult because it meant that there was little you could do as a woman to make a living. With nothing left to do, she decides to follow her dreams and walk into the Pinkerton Detective Agency. This famous agency was involved with so many cases during that time period!

Being a detective was definitely something that most women weren't allowed to do at the time but as readers quickly find out in this book, Kate is not someone who takes no for an answer. In order to prove her mettle, she has to take on a case that can put her in some danger without her being able to know whether or not she will have a place at the agency. The author does a great job of bringing this danger to life with good detail.

This book follows Kate through several cases, many of them which will be very interesting to history lovers. For instance, Kate is charged with getting President-elect Abraham Lincoln to his inauguration safely. It requires that not only Kate go in disguise but that President Lincoln get on a train in disguise as well. It's one of those true history stories that almost seems unbelievable. I had to look up what actually happened right after finishing the book and I think any book that can get you interested in continuing to do research is a good one. Kate is a fascinating character and I love the way that the author was able to bring this person who is not particularly well-known to life!


Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Review: Wildly Into the Dark: Typewriter Poems and the Rattlings of a Curious Mind by Tyler Knott Gregson

Title: Wildly Into the Dark: Typewriter Poems and the Rattlings of a Curious Mind
Author: Tyler Knott Gregson
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: Tarcher Perigree
Publish Date: March 28, 2017 (Next Week!)
Source: Publisher

What's the Story?:

From "With loyal fans around the world and across the internet, Tyler Knott Gregson is reinventing poetry for a new generation, using Instagram and Tumblr to reach readers where they are.
Tyler's third collection includes more of his popular Typewriter Series poems (featured in his first book, Chasers of the Light) as well as never-before-published scenes that paint the world as only Tyler sees and experiences it. Filled with vivid photographs and even more vivid emotions, Wildly Into the Dark is a must-have for longtime fans as well as newcomers to Tyler's unique brand of passionate, intimate, and playful words and images."

My Two Cents:

"Wildly into the Dark" is the new book by author Tyler Knott Gregson. It's his third book of poetry and it touches on everything from love to nature to travel. Some of the poems are incredibly personal and intimate and he has a great way of reaching out to the reader from the pages and making the reader feel like he's talking directly to them.

This book is so much more than just a poetry book though. Gregson is also a great photographer and puts a lot of his photography in this book. The photographs are mostly of nature and beautiful scenery. The pictures are special by themselves but combined with the words of the poems, it becomes something more powerful.

The other thing that is special about this book is that many of the poems are typed out by typewriter on old random pieces of paper. That probably doesn't sound particularly exciting but it makes the poems feel a little more special like a connection between the past and the present.

This is the first book that I've read by Gregson but I would love to go back and read some of his other poetry because I enjoyed that so much. One of the other things that I want to mention about this book is that $1 from the pre-orders of this book are going to help support their organization To Write Love on Her Arms, an organization dedicated to helping those with mental illness especially depression. It's a great cause and that only makes this book more special!

Monday, March 20, 2017

Review: The Confessions of Young Nero by Margaret George

Title: The Confessions of Young Nero
Author: Margaret George 
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: Berkley Books
Publish Date: March 7, 2017
Source: Publisher

What's the Story?:

From "Built on the backs of those who fell before it, Julius Caesar's imperial dynasty is only as strong as the next person who seeks to control it. In the Roman Empire no one is safe from the sting of betrayal: man, woman or child.

As a boy, Nero's royal heritage becomes a threat to his very life, first when the mad emperor Caligula tries to drown him, then when his great aunt attempts to secure her own son's inheritance. Faced with shocking acts of treachery, young Nero is dealt a harsh lesson: it is better to be cruel than dead.

While Nero idealizes the artistic and athletic principles of Greece, his very survival rests on his ability to navigate the sea of vipers that is Rome. The most lethal of all is his own mother, a cold-blooded woman whose singular goal is to control the empire. With cunning and poison, the obstacles fall one by one. But as Agrippina's machinations earn her son a title he is both tempted and terrified to assume, Nero's determination to escape her thrall will shape him into the man he was fated to become, an Emperor who became legendary."

My Two Cents:

"The Confessions of Young Nero" is the latest book from Margaret George, one of my very favorite historical fiction writers. Historical fiction lovers know that when you read a book by Margaret George, you're in for real treat. This book is definitely no different! I enjoyed this story and was very excited to see that this is only George's first book in a planned series on Nero.

In this book, George takes us back to ancient Rome, to when Nero the infamous Emperor is still a young boy. Even though he's very young in this book, he is still involved with some of the palace intrigue that seems to go along with being in ancient Rome. Not only is Nero fascinating but some of the secondary characters really add to the book. His mother is bent on ensuring that he will one day become emperor and that she will reap the benefits of his power. She is definitely an interesting character and one that I would want to stay far, far away from her in real life as she seems to have a tendency to get upset when things don't go her way and try to poison people. There is poison and plots galore throughout this book.

This book covers from when Nero was a young boy to when he becomes Emperor and the few years after that. This book is supposed to be the first in a duology or series from George on Nero. One thing that I really like that George does with this book is she is able to humanize and give good insight into Nero.  Being a history lover, I had heard a lot of things about Nero. You hear all sorts of stories about the kind of person that he was (not usually positive) and George gives him some humanity and somewhat of a explanation as to why he was the way that he was.

The detail in the story is a true treat! As with George's other books she spends a lot of time coming up with the great detail in order to give the reader a full body experience when reading this book. I thoroughly enjoyed this book but I'm kind of sad but I've already read it and now have to wait for its companion. The wait will be well worth it as I am excited to finish this great story!


Friday, March 17, 2017

Author Guest Post and Giveaway: Eva Stachniak

I am so very pleased to welcome Eva Stachniak here to A Bookish Affair. I loved her Catherine the Great books and if you saw my review yesterday, you know I enjoyed her latest, The Chosen Maiden!

Where do new novels come from?
    Mine often develop from fragments of the previous ones, a scene cut short, a thought abandoned because it doesn’t quite fit. So it doesn’t surprise me that I can trace the first stirrings of The Chosen Maiden to The Winter Palace, to the research I did on a Viennese dance-master preparing Catherine the Great’s son, future Paul I, for a ballet performance at the Hermitage. My notes from the time contain remarks on the close relationship between the Imperial court and Russian ballet, and a reminder to take a closer look at the Artists of the Imperial Theatres, especially at the time when Catherine’s legacy was coming to its violent end. I did take a closer look, and this is when I came face to face with Bronia Nijinska, a brilliant dancer and choreographer who came of age just as the Imperial Ballet, once an obedient and obliging child of the court, broke into open revolt and began to assert its own vision of how Russian art should evolve.
    What drew me to Bronia? There was, of course, the tantalizing connection to her beloved elder brother, Vaslav, the God of the Dance (he was her mentor but she was the best interpreter of his choreography). There was the Polish connection (both Nijinsky parents came to Russia from Poland and Polish was Bronia’s mother tongue). There were her choreographic visions forged in the cauldron of revolutionary Russian art which secured her a firm place in the history of modern dance. But, in the end, as I pored over the treasures of the The Bronislava Nijinska Archives at the Library of Congress—boxes of intimate diaries, letters, notes and hundreds of snapshots she took of her family and friends—that the two main themes of The Chosen Maiden began to emerge: art as the source of inner strength, and the steadfast solidarity of the three generations of the Nijinsky women.
    It was Bronia’s passionate belief in the power of art that gave her strength to fight for her own place first in the Imperial Theatres of St. Petersburg and then in the predominantly male focused Ballet Russes. It was art that stoked her resilience at the times when others told her she didn’t have the body of a ballerina or that she should content herself with interpreting her brother’s visions and not bother with her own. It was art that gave her the courage to resist the repressive regimes determined to engineer her soul. And, in the end, it was art that made her pick herself up after each paralyzing loss life dealt her and to keep on fighting.
    But art would not have been enough to protect her from defeat, not without the fierce power and loyalty of the Nijinsky women.
    For as the men are erased from the family story by choice or by cruel fate, it is the women, Eleanora, Bronia and Bronia’s daughter Irina, grandmother, mother and daughter, who take their place. Proud and strong, steadfast, nurturing and fiercely loyal, they stand by each other, even in the hardest of circumstances. As the world around them is torn apart by wars and revolutionary upheavals, they know that they cannot afford to be weak. The existence of their family depends on them.
    This is a story which most Eastern European families, including my own, know by heart.   
    And so as soon as the plot of The Chosen Maiden began to take shape in my mind I found myself transported to the arms of the Polish women of my childhood, my own grandmother and mother. They too were brave, nurturing, tough as nails, stoic in their assessment of the dangers and possibilities of salvation, determined to wrench any chance they could from the little that they had. Born in what would one day be called the Bloodlands of Europe, between them they lived through two world wars, a revolution, a Nazi occupation and years of communist repression. Having experienced staggering losses they still found a way to keep me safe and hopeful.
    If the door closes, climb through the window. You fell? Pick yourself up and keep going. We’ve come through worse times and we didn’t give up. Stop crying and try harder. Resist when fighting is not possible. Remember, we are watching you.
    These voices are still in my head. Voices I am still grateful for.


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Thursday, March 16, 2017

Review: The Chosen Maiden by Eva Stachniak

Title: The Chosen Maiden
Author: Eva Stachniak
Format: Paperback
Publisher: Doubleday
Publish Date: January 10, 2017
Source: Author

What's the Story?:

From "Born on the road to dancer parents, the Nijinsky children seem destined for the stage. Vaslav is an early prodigy, and through single-minded pursuit will grow into arguably the greatest--and most infamous--Russian ballet dancer of the 20th century. His talented younger sister Bronia, however, also longs to dance. Overshadowed by Vaslav, plagued by a body deemed less than ideal and struggling against the constraints of her gender, Bronia will have to work triply hard to prove herself worthy.

Bronia's stunning discipline and mesmerizing talent will eventually elevate her to the highest stage in Russia: the prestigious, old-world Mariinsky Ballet. But as the First World War rages, revolution sparks in Russia. In her politics, love life and career, Bronia will be forced to confront the choice between old and new; traditional and groundbreaking; safe and passionate."

My Two Cents: 

"The Chosen Maiden" is the story of Bronia Nijinsky, the sister of the famous ballet dancer Vaslav Nijinsky. Although I am not an expert on ballet by any stretch, I do appreciate it and even for those of us who are only casual observers, Nijinsky's name stands above so many others in the dancing world. I had no idea before reading this book that not only did he have a sister but that she was a fantastic ballet dancer in her own right. Who says you can't learn anything from fiction?

I love books that explore lesser known people in history. Bronia was a great dancer in her own right and seemed to be much more steady career-wise than her brother. Not only is her dancing life fascinating but her personality itself makes this book a good read. She has the kind of drive that many can only dream about. Many parts of her life seem to be one step forward, two steps back but she keeps on going. Her tenacity is inspiring. Not only is her personality interesting but the details of all the places that she goes and the people that she meets really helped me get into the book. The author does a great job of making these places and secondary characters come to life. The detail is truly rich and decadent!

I love exploring family relationships in books and the sibling relationship at the center of this book definitely drew me in! Bronia and Vaslav have such a tenuous relationship. They push each other. They drive each other. They make each other rise to the occasion. This book explores not only Bronia's dancing life in her brother's shadow but a generally complicated relationship between siblings from a tight family although one that seems to favor the male children (not particularly surprising for those days). The family hangs its star on Vaslav and Bronia must push herself in order to get the scraps. I loved reading about this relationship!

This is the kind of book that you savor. There are great and interesting characters and great detail that makes this a good book to get lost in. My fellow histfic fans will really enjoy this one!


Wednesday, March 15, 2017

TLC Book Tours: Eggshells by Caitriona Lally

Title: Eggshells
Author: Caitriona Lally
Format: Paperback
Publisher: Melville House Publishing
Publish Date: March 14, 2017 (Yesterday!)
Source: TLC Book Tours

What's the Story?:

From "Vivian doesn't feel like she fits in - and never has. As a child, she was so whimsical that her parents told her she was "left by fairies." Now, living alone in Dublin, the neighbors treat her like she's crazy, her older sister condescends to her, social workers seem to have registered her as troubled, and she hasn't a friend in the world.

So, she decides it's time to change her life: She begins by advertising for a friend. Not just any friend. She wants one named Penelope. Meanwhile, she roams the city, mapping out a new neighborhood every day, seeking her escape route to a better world, the other world her parents told her she came from. And then one day someone named Penelope answers her ad for a friend. And from that moment on, Vivian's life begins to change."

My Two Cents:

In "Eggshells," Vivian doesn't fit in and never has. In fact, her parents told her that she was a changeling and the reader is left questioning whether or not this really might be the case. Vivian spends her life doing things that seem odd to others. She tries to model behavior that would be considered normal but fails every time. She is lonely and decides to advertise for a friend and not just a friend but a friend specifically named Penelope. She feels that this will be the first step to creating a new life for herself.

This book is very much a character driven novel. We get to see the world from Vivian's perspective. It's a world where normal interaction with others must be thoroughly practiced and where Vivian often has to remind herself of what a normal way to behave would be. Much goes unnoticed by her; she can't understand why her sister may not want her just showing up on her doorstep without announcement. At first, Vivian's character felt very fresh for me. Her point of view is definitely different and I love an eccentric character. I did get a bit distracted in trying to figure out exactly what was going on with her, which took away from the book even though this is indeed a character driven story.

Sometimes there is too much of a good thing and that became the case with Vivian's character. There doesn't seem to be a true arc other than Vivian behaving the way that Vivian does and trying to overcome the same feeling that all humans, even those that are less eccentric, try to counter: the feeling of loneliness.


Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Review: A Bridge Across the Ocean by Susan Meissner

Title: A Bridge Across the Ocean
Author: Susan Meissner
Format: Paperback
Publisher: Berkley Books
Publish Date: March 14, 2017 (Today!)
Source: Publisher

What's the Story?:

From "February, 1946. World War Two is over, but the recovery from the most intimate of its horrors has only just begun for Annaliese Lange, a German ballerina desperate to escape her past, and Simone Deveraux, the wronged daughter of a French Resistance spy.

Now the two women are joining hundreds of other European war brides aboard the renowned RMS Queen Mary to cross the Atlantic and be reunited with their American husbands. Their new lives in the United States brightly beckon until their tightly-held secrets are laid bare in their shared stateroom. When the voyage ends at New York Harbor, only one of them will disembark...

Present day. Facing a crossroads in her own life, Brette Caslake visits the famously haunted Queen Mary at the request of an old friend. What she finds will set her on a course to solve a seventy-year-old tragedy that will draw her into the heartaches and triumphs of the courageous war brides and will ultimately lead her to reconsider what she has to sacrifice to achieve her own deepest longings."

My Two Cents:

"A Bridge Across the Ocean" is the story told in a few different times: during World War II, just after World War II, and in the present day. This is a historical fiction with the present day story line having a healthy dose of paranormal activity for interest. This was an engaging story with a memorable mystery at its center that kept me on my toes. This is a great release from Meissner!

The characters in this book are great. They are all different but at their center, all three of our main characters are just trying to figure themselves out. In the past timeline, Simone is running away from her difficult life in France during the war. She is ready for a fresh start where she can be her own person. Annaliese takes the name and papers of a beloved friend who is now dead in order to buy her freedom on passage to America, far away from her Nazi husband. In the present, Brette is trying to come to terms with the fact that she can see the dead. It is something that she has known since she was little but until she is called on to help a friend, it is something she does not want to admit. These characters were so memorable and the author really makes you feel for each of their plights.

Books told in two (or more as in this case) times are often uneven for me. This one was not! Simone and Annaliese's stories are engrossing on their own because of the implication that historical events had on both of them. Brette's story is totally different because of the paranormal bend to it. I knew nothing about the RMS Queen Mary before reading this book and I loved how the author wove not only the real history of the ship but the rumor of it being haunted (btw, it's much more than a rumor in this book). The ship itself has a really amazing history. It was everything from a ship for the rich and famous, a way to move troops to different theaters of war, to a ship of hope bringing European war brides to the U.S. to reunite with with their husbands.

This is a good story that has a great mix of historical intrigue and paranormal details to make this book more off of the beaten path. This is a good escape!


Monday, March 13, 2017

Review: Pachinko by Min Jin Lee

Title: Pachinko
Author: Min Jin Lee
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
Publish Date: February 7, 2017
Source: Publisher

What's the Story?:

From "Pachinko follows one Korean family through the generations, beginning in early 1900s Korea with Sunja, the prized daughter of a poor yet proud family, whose unplanned pregnancy threatens to shame them all. Deserted by her lover, Sunja is saved when a young tubercular minister offers to marry and bring her to Japan.

So begins a sweeping saga of an exceptional family in exile from its homeland and caught in the indifferent arc of history. Through desperate struggles and hard-won triumphs, its members are bound together by deep roots as they face enduring questions of faith, family, and identity."

My Two Cents:

"Pachinko" is a sweeping family epic that tells the story of Sunja, a young woman who gets pregnant out of wedlock in the early 1900s. This is a particularly precarious position for a young woman so when a pastor offers to marry Sunja and take her away from everything she knows in Korea to a place she has never been before, Japan. This is only the beginning of the story. At over 500 pages, it would be easy for a book to fall into the boring/ drags on category but that does not happen with this book. I was totally engrossed in the story of Sunja and her family that I would have happily read more and the book already covers about 90 years. This is a book that will enthrall historical fiction lovers and lovers of family stories!

The characters in this book are wonderful. The book goes through how Sunja forms a new close knit family in a new place and cuts out a living for herself. She grows to love her husband, Baek, and they have another son in addition to the one she was pregnant with when she came to Japan. They live with Baek's brother and his wife. They form a safe harbor in a new place.  Each member of the family is rendered with great detail so that they feel very vivid. I loved reading about all of the different things this family goes through. They live through the lead up to and the occurrence of World War II in Japan and have a fascinating perspective that kept me engaged. I loved reading about all of the different things that the family witnesses.

The setting of the book is great. I love books set in Japan but the fact that this book is set around a Korean family that lived in Japan was especially interesting. The family lives in Japan during a time that the country was rapidly changing. Not only do they live through the world wars but the decades after where Japan is rebuilding and finding its footing. The detail of the different cities in the book were interesting. I loved all of the detail that the author included.

One of the most interesting aspects of the book was the idea of the family as outsiders. The family is not embraced when they move to Japan. They are the ultimate outsiders. They are discriminated against because of being Korean. They aren't given the same opportunities that native Japanese are given. They struggle to figure out what would be acceptable for them to make a living from as outsiders. To add more interest, eventually one of Sunja's sons is able to pass as Japanese, which added another level of intrigue for me.

This book is a vast story that will pull you in from the very beginning. A treat for historical fiction lovers, the details of this book will stick with you long after the final page.


Friday, March 10, 2017

TLC Book Tours: The Orphan's Tale by Pam Jenoff

Title: The Orphan's Tale 
Author: Pam Jenoff 
Format: ARC
Publisher: Mira
Publish Date: February 21, 2017
Source: TLC Book Tours

What's the Story?:

From "Sixteen-year-old Noa has been cast out in disgrace after becoming pregnant by a Nazi soldier and being forced to give up her baby. She lives above a small rail station, which she cleans in order to earn her keep… When Noa discovers a boxcar containing dozens of Jewish infants bound for a concentration camp, she is reminded of the child that was taken from her. And in a moment that will change the course of her life, she snatches one of the babies and flees into the snowy night.

Noa finds refuge with a German circus, but she must learn the flying trapeze act so she can blend in undetected, spurning the resentment of the lead aerialist, Astrid. At first rivals, Noa and Astrid soon forge a powerful bond. But as the facade that protects them proves increasingly tenuous, Noa and Astrid must decide whether their friendship is enough to save one another—or if the secrets that burn between them will destroy everything."

My Two Cents:

"The Orphan's Tale" is the story of Noa, a teenager girl who is cast aside by her family after she gets pregnant as a teenager during World War II. After she rescues the baby from certain doom, she quickly comes across a circus and is taken in by the circus performers and is trained to become a trapeze artist. Astrid is a woman who is on the run as well. She leaves her German husband as she is a Jew and would make him a target. She knows she has to stay on the move so the circus is a perfect hiding space for her. Pam Jenoff is a favorite of mine and I was excited for this book!

This is a book that is a very different story from World War II. World War II historical fiction is incredibly popular. Sometimes the stories are so similar to each other that it's hard to tell them apart. This one stands out not only for the unique story line but for the rich detail that the author uses to bring the characters and the setting to life. I really enjoyed this one. 

The chapters in the book are divided between Noa and Astrid.  The relationship between Noa and Astrid was especially interesting to me. It's so good to read how their relationship shifts and changes throughout the book. The relationship starts out as more of rivalry when Astrid sees Noa as competition for her place in the circus. They eventually realize that they may have more in common than they initially want to admit. This could bring them closer together or tear them apart. The author creates a really realistic and complicated relationship between these two characters that kept me wanting to read.

I really liked the historical detail about the circus and the performers. These performers travel all over while the war is still going on in Europe which makes them an automatic target. I really like the unique perspective of people who get to travel so much during the height of the war. This is a great pick for historical fiction lovers who love a story with the good detail and fascinating characters!


Thursday, March 9, 2017

Review: Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

Title: Station Eleven
Author: Emily St. John Mandel
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: Knopf
Publish Date: September 9, 2014
Source: Owned

What's the Story?:

From "One snowy night Arthur Leander, a famous actor, has a heart attack onstage during a production of King Lear. Jeevan Chaudhary, a paparazzo-turned-EMT, is in the audience and leaps to his aid. A child actress named Kirsten Raymonde watches in horror as Jeevan performs CPR, pumping Arthur's chest as the curtain drops, but Arthur is dead. That same night, as Jeevan walks home from the theater, a terrible flu begins to spread. Hospitals are flooded and Jeevan and his brother barricade themselves inside an apartment, watching out the window as cars clog the highways, gunshots ring out, and life disintegrates around them.

Twenty years later, Kirsten is an actress with the Traveling Symphony. Together, this small troupe moves between the settlements of an altered world, performing Shakespeare and music for scattered communities of survivors. Written on their caravan, and tattooed on Kirsten's arm is a line from Star Trek: "Because survival is insufficient." But when they arrive in St. Deborah by the Water, they encounter a violent prophet who digs graves for anyone who dares to leave.

Spanning decades, moving back and forth in time, and vividly depicting life before and after the pandemic, this suspenseful, elegiac novel is rife with beauty. As Arthur falls in and out of love, as Jeevan watches the newscasters say their final good-byes, and as Kirsten finds herself caught in the crosshairs of the prophet, we see the strange twists of fate that connect them all. "

My Two Cents:

"Station Eleven" is another one of those books where I can't believe that it took me so long to get around to reading it. I was happy to have a chance as part of the book club that I'm in. In this book, the world has faced a devastating flu pandemic where the major majority of humans have died. Society is devastated and nothing can go back to the way that it once was. This book explores what happened just before, during, and after the pandemic (like several years after the pandemic). The story telling is riveting and it is no secret why this book has been as popular as it has been.

This book has a huge cast. This can be dangerous territory for a writer. Too many characters and the risk of characters blending together becomes quite high. This is not the case for this book. Mandel does a great job of creating really interesting characters who are totally and utterly unique. Mandel teases out how these characters are all related to each other. It's beautiful they way that they all come together. Much of the book focuses on Kirsten (she ended up being my favorite character), a young woman who now travels with a company made up of actors and musicians who travel all over putting on Shakespeare plays for any bit of humanity that they can find well after the pandemic has ended. Prior to the pandemic, Kirsten was a little girl who once watched a great actor die on stage just prior to the pandemic. Because she was so young when the pandemic happened, she barely remembers the world before which shapes her perspective. I loved seeing how the author dealt with the different perspectives in the book.

The world building in this book is great. I think one of the scariest things about this book and one of the reasons that it will stick with me for such a long time is that Mandel takes a world that truly feels like the one I know and turns it on its head. It feels very real. She goes into detail about how quickly things go downhill after the pandemic starts. Society as we the readers know it, changes in just a matter of days. Things that we take for granted like electricity and communication via internet and phone only last for a little bit after the pandemic takes hold. Taking something so familiar and turning it into something so different so quickly is terrifying. 

I really enjoyed this book! The best books stick with you the longest and this one certainly has staying power!

Monday, March 6, 2017

Review: If I Could Tell You by Elizabeth Wilhide

Title: If I Could Tell You
Author: Elizabeth Wilhide
Format: ARC
Publisher: Penguin Books
Publish Date: February 28, 2017
Source: Publisher

What's the Story?:

From "England, 1939: Julia Compton has a beautifully well-ordered life. Once a promising pianist, she now has a handsome husband, a young son she adores, and a housekeeper who takes care of her comfortable home. Then, on the eve of war, a film crew arrives in her coastal town. She falls in love. 

The consequences are devastating. Penniless, denied access to her son, and completely unequipped to fend for herself, she finds herself adrift in wartime London with her lover, documentary filmmaker Dougie Birdsall. While Dougie seeks truth wherever he can find it, Julia finds herself lost. As the German invasion looms and bombs rain down on the city, she faces a choice: succumb to her fate, or fight to forge a new identity in the heat of war"

My Two Cents:

"If I Could Tell You"is the story of Julia, a woman living in England during the late 1930s when Europe is just getting swept up in World War II. Julia lives a fairly quiet existence in a small coastal English town, which has been relatively spared by the powers of war. Julia leaves behind her husband and son after she falls in love with a film director. 

This book follows the chaos that happens after she upends her life and everything she knows. The premise of this book was interesting to me. This book is Kristen Hannah's "The Nightingale" meets "Anna Karenina." The problem with these comparisons are that those are two pretty high bars to match. Unfortunately for this book, it doesn't get close to either. There is emotion in this book as there is in the ones that it is compared to but it is not nearly as strong or heart wrenching. The reader is left wondering why Julia would upend everything as there is no thorough exploration as to how she got to where she is by the beginning of the book. 

The book feels very rushed there isn't much of a lead up to Julia falling in love at all. And so it's hard to see how she's able to believe everything she has behind so quickly. There isn't any indication of turmoil in Julia's personal life so it's hard to understand why she would throw it all away. 

The setting of the book was very interesting. Julia lives in a coastal town where the war is seemingly only brushing against the residents. I like the juxtaposition between the coastal town and London, which of course gets hit harder during the war. 

The writing in this book was okay. The author has a tendency to do a lot of telling rather than showing particularly when it comes to some of the emotions of the various characters throughout the book. This serves to take you out of this story a little bit. Overall this book was an interesting premise but in its carryout, it fell a little bit short of expectations.

Friday, March 3, 2017

Review: Always a Bridesmaid (for Hire): Stories on Growing Up, Looking for Love, and Walking Down the Aisle for Complete Strangers by Jen Glantz

Title: Always a Bridesmaid (for Hire): Stories on Growing Up, Looking for Love, and Walking Down the Aisle for Complete Strangers
Author: Jen Glantz
Format: ARC
Publisher: Atria Books
Publish Date: February 7, 2017
Source: Publisher

What's the Story?:

From "After moving to New York City in her mid-twenties to pursue her dream of writing—and not living on the “Upper East Side” of her parents’ house anymore—Jen Glantz looked forward to a future of happy hours and Sunday brunches with her besties.

What she got instead were a string of phone calls that began with, "Jen, I have something exciting to tell you!" and ended with, "I'd be honored if you would be my bridesmaid." At first she was delighted, but it wasn’t long before she realized two things: all of her assets were tied up in bridesmaid dresses, and she herself was no closer to finding The One. She couldn't do much about the second thing (though her mother would beg to differ), but she could about the first.

One (slightly tipsy) night, Jen posted an ad on Craigslist advertising her services as a professional bridesmaid. When she woke up the next morning, it had gone viral. What began as a half-joke suddenly turned into a lifetime of adventure for Jen–and more insight into the meaning of love than she was getting from OKCupid—as she walked down the aisle at stranger after stranger's wedding."

My Two Cents:

"Always a Bridesmaid (For Hire)" is a funny memoir by Jen Glantz who once she hits her mid-twenties feels like one of the only questions she is ever asked is to be a bridesmaid. Bridesmaids can be very important on wedding days (I know I was happy to be surrounded by really good ones on my wedding day). They are the ones that are supposed to keep the bride calm and help smooth out the day a little bit. Most of the time its up to friends and family to be asked to be bridesmaids but in the case you need professional help, Jen Glantz is your gal. She is asked this question so much so that she is inspired she puts an ad on Craigslist to become a bridesmaid for any stranger!

It sounds like the makings of a romantic comedy but this is totally and utterly real. This book is a funny memoir with some interesting ruminations on topics such as strangers. At first it seemed strange to me that someone would hire a bridesmaid. For my wedding, I had a team of bridesmaids made up of close family and friends. I also just wanted to have a big party for my wedding, which meant I was a fairly low-key bride. I couldn't imagine not having those wonderful women by my side but in some cases, there are people who just don't have that kind of support. 

Glantz talks about the idea of how everyone that is close to you in your life was once a stranger. True but it's something that I have never really thought about. Even my closest friends, some that I have known for close to 20 years once started out as strangers even though I feel like I've had them for my entire life. It was sort of a beautiful way to explain why the brides feel comfortable with her. The process of the brides getting to know her and her getting to know the brides very quickly was fascinating to me. It definitely would take a certain kind of person to be comfortable with another that quickly (definitely not me).

Some of the stories in the book are very funny and had me laughing. Some parts were more poignant and staid. Overall, this was an entertaining memoir about a very strange job. Who knew?

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