Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Review: The Gods of Tango by Carolina De Robertis

Title: The Gods of Tango
Author: Carolina De Robertis
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: Knopf
Publish Date: July 7, 2015
Source: Library

What's the Story?:

From "February 1913: seventeen-year-old Leda, carrying only a small trunk and her father’s cherished violin, leaves her Italian village for a new home, and a new husband, in Argentina. Arriving in Buenos Aires, she discovers that he has been killed, but she remains: living in a tenement, without friends or family, on the brink of destitution. Still, she is seduced by the music that underscores life in the city: tango, born from lower-class immigrant voices, now the illicit, scandalous dance of brothels and cabarets. Leda eventually acts on a long-held desire to master the violin, knowing that she can never play in public as a woman. She cuts off her hair, binds her breasts, and becomes “Dante,” a young man who joins a troupe of tango musicians bent on conquering the salons of high society. Now, gradually, the lines between Leda and Dante begin to blur, and feelings that she has long kept suppressed reveal themselves, jeopardizing not only her musical career, but her life."

My Two Cents:

"The Gods of Tango" is the story of Italian immigrant Leda who comes to Argentina in the early 1900s. She is married to her cousin and when he suddenly dies, she is left alone in a city where she knows no one. She will have to carve out a life for herself in this brand new place. She is swept up in the tango music of the city, which isn't really open to women at the time. So she decides to live her life as a man, never telling anyone her secret, which could ruin her career. This is a sweeping novel that looks at what it means to carve out a true life for yourself. 

Leda is a fascinating character. She goes through so much trouble to disguise herself as a man and does it so well that she is able to not only live as a man but to love as a man as well. This gets her into trouble later on in the book but it was fascinating to see how long she was able to carry out the ruse for. She struggles with who she is. Society is not particularly open to women at the time and certainly not open to lesbians. You are pulling for her the whole time as you just want her to be able to live her life in the way that she wants to live it. I really liked that the author shed light on a time when people had to be completely closed off about who they loved if it didn't fit the embraced narrative of the day: one man, one woman, forever and always.

The book takes place mostly in Argentina with a bit in Italy at the beginning and Uruguay at the end. I love reading books set in South America and it doesn't seem like I get there often enough in my reading travels. This book gives a lot of good detail about what was going on in Buenos Aires at the time and how the city was changing. I really enjoyed all of the detail and this book made me crave reading more historical fiction set in South America.

Overall, this book was off the beaten path, which I really enjoyed. It's a good read with good detail and memorable characters.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

TLC Book Tours: On the Sickle's Edge by Neville D. Frankel

Title: On the Sickle's Edge
Author: Neville D. Frankel
Format: Paperback
Publisher: Dialogos
Publish Date: January 15, 2017
Source: TLC Book Tours

What's the Story?:

From "A sweeping masterwork of love and loss, secrets and survival, On the Sickle's Edge is told through the voices of three characters who lay bare their family’s saga: the endearing, scrappy South-African born Lena, transported to Latvia and later trapped in the USSR; her granddaughter Darya, a true Communist whose growing disillusionment with Soviet ideology places her family at mortal risk; and Steven, a painter from Boston who inadvertently stumbles into the tangled web of his family’s past. Against the roiling backdrop of twentieth-century Russia and Eastern Europe, the novel delivers equal parts historical drama, political thriller and poignant love story."

My Two Cents:

"On the Sickle's Edge" is a story told in three parts about one extended family whose lives are driven by the Soviet Union. It either tears them apart or pushes them together throughout the book. There is Lena, whose family is torn apart when they leave South Africa for the USSR in the early 1900s. There is Darya, Lena's granddaughter, who is firmly entrenched in the government and living at a time when the Soviet dream is starting to fray. Steven is the great great nephew of Lena and knows nothing of his family living in the USSR as he and his father feel all alone in the United States after leaving South Africa. Spanning almost 100 years, this is a vast family saga that was interesting all the way through in different ways. 

The first part of the book feels like a great historical novel. We see how Lena's family left South Africa and how they first went to Latvia before going to the USSR. They are Jewish and like so many people during that time, they had to come up with a whole new background to hide their origins and this imagining of other roots sets off some of the action surrounding Steven having difficulty tracing his family in the future. I loved the detail in this section of the book and almost felt like I wanted more as the book jumps between years (wanting more is always a good sign when a book already stands at almost 450 pages).  Lena is such a great character.

Darya and Steven's section of the book almost feel a little bit more like a political thriller. Darya and her husband are deeply involved with the government and her husband is especially so to the point where he is scary. Darya's section of the book shows how she got to where she is by the time that Steven's part of the story picks up. 

The beginning and end of the book do seem a little disjointed and make the book feel like multiple books at once but it works. It works because you care about this family and you want to see them through. The writing of the book is good. The author is agile enough to successfully pull off a more traditional historical fiction feel and the thriller feel that you get by the end of the book. Because the book covers so much time, it gives you a good sense of not only the arc of this particular family but the arc of the USSR/ Russia itself. The mirroring is really interesting! This is the kind of book that you get lost in as it takes you on a fantastic ride!

Monday, May 29, 2017

Review: Royal Bastards by Andrew Shvarts

Title: Royal Bastards
Author: Andrew Shvarts
Format: ARC
Publisher: Disney- Hyperion
Publish Date: May 30, 2017 (Tomorrow!)
Source: Publisher

What's the Story?:

From "Being a bastard blows. Tilla would know. Her father, Lord Kent of the Western Province, loved her as a child, but cast her aside as soon as he had trueborn children.

At sixteen, Tilla spends her days exploring long-forgotten tunnels beneath the castle with her stablehand half brother, Jax, and her nights drinking with the servants, passing out on Jax’s floor while her castle bedroom collects dust. Tilla secretly longs to sit by her father’s side, resplendent in a sparkling gown, enjoying feasts with the rest of the family. Instead, she sits with the other bastards, like Miles of House Hampstedt, an awkward scholar who’s been in love with Tilla since they were children.

Then, at a feast honoring the visiting princess Lyriana, the royal shocks everyone by choosing to sit at the Bastards’ Table. Before she knows it, Tilla is leading the sheltered princess on a late-night escapade. Along with Jax, Miles, and fellow bastard Zell, a Zitochi warrior from the north, they stumble upon a crime they were never meant to witness."

My Two Cents:

"Royal Bastards" is the story of a bunch of bastards from various royal families in this fantasy world. The various royal families are at war with each other. Tilla and her band of merry misfits don't truly have a role in this royal world, they aren't in the line of succession but when they witness something they weren't supposed to, they become the linchpin to fixing things. This book is the first book in a planned trilogy that will appeal to YA fantasy lovers who don't necessarily mind retreading trails already known.

This book felt very familiar in a lot of ways. The world building feels vaguely medieval/ Game of Thrones (without the huge amounts of violence but still tons of action - this is definitely YA still!). The warring families feel vaguely familiar. Even the idea of the outcasts (the bastards in this case) feel familiar. For those that read a lot of this genre, this may feel a bit too familiar to be surprised.

Even with all the familiar feelings, this book definitely still had some great moments that made for a good read! The action in the book really got me! Once it gets going, it doesn't stop and it is easy to see why the book is going to be a trilogy in order to tie things up. There are some great scenes in the book. It can be hard to translate a lot of action into scenes that flow in a book but the author definitely succeeds. Action is definitely a driver here!

Overall, this was still an exciting story even with the familiar feel!


Friday, May 26, 2017

Review: All the Best People by Sonja Yoerg

Title: All the Best People
Author: Sonja Yoerg
Format: Paperback
Publisher: Berkley Books
Publish Date: May 2, 2017
Source: Publisher

What's the Story?:

From "Vermont, 1972. Carole LaPorte has a satisfying, ordinary life. She cares for her children, balances the books for the family’s auto shop and laughs when her husband slow dances her across the kitchen floor. Her tragic childhood might have happened to someone else.

But now her mind is playing tricks on her. The accounts won’t reconcile and the murmuring she hears isn’t the television. She ought to seek help, but she’s terrified of being locked away in a mental hospital like her mother, Solange. So Carole hides her symptoms, withdraws from her family and unwittingly sets her eleven-year-old daughter Alison on a desperate search for meaning and power: in Tarot cards, in omens from a nearby river and in a mysterious blue glass box belonging to her grandmother."

My Two Cents:

"All the Best People" is the story of Carole, a woman living in the 1970s that starts to hear voices. Not only does this frighten her because she doesn't know what's going on but it also frightens her that she may end up like her mother. Her mother, Solange, has been locked away in a mental hospital for many years since right after the birth of Carole's younger sister Janine. Carole has to quickly grow up and becomes more of a mother to Janine than a sister. Carole is haunted by this and doesn't want to end up abandoning her children like she was effectively abandoned.

The book centers on three characters: Solange, Carole, and Carole's daughter, Alison (who often seems wise beyond her years). We meet Solange, a woman driven by love in a time where men still very much have power over women. Carole's father had Solange committed for reasons other than mental illness (more detail in the book - this detail makes for a real twist in the story). Carole is a committed mother who wants better for her children than she had being bounced around after her mother is committed. Alison is intuitive and knows there is something going on with her mother before Carole is ready to admit it. The characters are great and really draw you in. The author uses the characters to unwrap the secrets hidden in this family's past in a way that keeps you wanting to read on.

At its core, this book is about nature versus nurture. Can we overcome the things that we are born with? Do our conditions make us who we are? What if the conditions were different? I love how the author explores this them in a very subtle way that will make the reader think.

This book is also about relationships between mothers and daughters. Carole has no control over how her relationship with her mother is. She was so young when she was taken away and seems to have regrets about having so much responsibility thrust upon her when she is so young. Carole also blames her mother for her own diagnosis. When Alison feels her mother pulling away, she does everything to try to keep their close relationship going. I loved how the author was able to show these contrasts and also how events and time can shape these relationships. 

Overall, this was a good read!

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Hello from #LFLonChestnut !

One of the reasons I started book blogging is because I wanted to share my love of books with the world. Now I've found a new way to spread ALL. THE. WORDS. Say hello to my Little Free Library Charter Number 54881.

My husband built my LFL to match our house. I love it and it makes it so special that he built it for me!

Have you ever heard of a Little Free Library before? They're a great way to bring a bit of bookish community to your local area.

I have been running out to the LFL every single night after I put the kids to bed to see what got taken and what got dropped off. So far books have moved every single day in the week since my LFL opened. It's been amazing!

Follow my LFL steward adventures on Instagram or by using #LFLonChestnut across social media!

Do any of you have a Little Free Library?

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Review: A More Perfect Union by Jodi Daynard

Title: A More Perfect Union
Author: Jodi Daynard
Format: Ebook
Publisher: Lake Union Publishing
Publish Date: May 23, 2017
Source: Author

What's the Story?:

From "In 1794, Johnny Watkins returns to America from Barbados, intent on becoming a great statesman. Even his hero, John Adams, believes the gifted boy will go far. There’s just one catch: Johnny must learn to pass for white.
He finds a spirited and lovely confidante in Kate, one of the few who knows that Johnny’s father had been born a slave. But as he moves closer toward the new city of Washington, Johnny leaves Kate behind, falling instead for a prominent Maryland heiress who may not have his best interests at heart. Embroiled in the vicious politics of the approaching election, Johnny lives every moment at risk of being unmasked.

Then, a discovery about Thomas Jefferson, one that could sway the election, imperils not only Johnny’s future but also his life. In the end, Johnny learns who his real friends are—and the truth behind the great promise of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."

My Two Cents:

"A More Perfect Union" is the story of Johnny Watkins, a young man looking to contribute to the future of his adopted country of the United States in any way he kind. Inspired by great men like John Adams (who Johnny knows personally), he decides the best way that he can contribute is to become a politician and to truly lead his new country. Being mixed race, he has to pass for white in order to do what he aspires to do. He worries that his secret may be revealed at every turn.

This is the third book in Jodi Daynard's Midwife series but this book can very much be read as a stand alone book. The focus of the story is really on Johnny himself, the son of some of the previous characters in this trilogy. Although Johnny is hiding a secret, in many ways he is freer to pursue what he wants compared to the previous generation.

Johnny is right at the center of a lot of the political action of the time. He spends time in places like Boston, Maryland, and D.C. throughout the book meaning that he rubs elbows with a lot of the famous people at the time. I loved all of the detail that was included in the book! You get a good sense of the places that Johnny is seeing. There is also a love story at the center of the book that will keep you guessing (and rooting for Johnny and Kate) until the very end!

Overall, this book made me want to read more books set in this time period. This was a satisfying conclusion to this trilogy!  

TLC Book Tours Review: Goodnight from London by Jennifer Robson

Title: Goodnight from London
Author: Jennifer Robson
Format: ARC
Publisher: HarperCollins
Publish Date: May 2, 2017
Source: TLC Book Tours and HarperCollins

What's the Story?:

From "In the summer of 1940, ambitious young American journalist Ruby Sutton gets her big break: the chance to report on the European war as a staff writer for Picture Weekly newsmagazine in London. She jumps at the chance, for it's an opportunity not only to prove herself, but also to start fresh in a city and country that know nothing of her humble origins. But life in besieged Britain tests Ruby in ways she never imagined.

Although most of Ruby's new colleagues welcome her, a few resent her presence, not only as an American but also as a woman. She is just beginning to find her feet, to feel at home in a country that is so familiar yet so foreign, when the bombs begin to fall. 

As the nightly horror of the Blitz stretches unbroken into weeks and months, Ruby must set aside her determination to remain an objective observer. When she loses everything but her life, and must depend upon the kindness of strangers, she learns for the first time the depth and measure of true friendship—and what it is to love a man who is burdened by secrets that aren’t his to share."

My Two Cents:

In "Goodnight from London," Ruby is initially thrilled when she lands a job that will take her to London reporting on the war in 1940. In the United States, the war still feels very far away and remote. Ruby is anxious to be where the action is and she knows that this will be a fantastic job to continue to hone her skills as a reporter for a weekly magazine. She doesn't know just how difficult the job will get! Based on stories from the author's own family history, this is a great historical fiction about London during World War II.

Reading fiction and non-fiction about war reporters seems to be becoming a favorite of mine. With characters like Ruby in this book, it is no wonder! Ruby is dedicated to her craft of writing a good story and capturing the facts. This lands her the job in London but Ruby is not prepared for how difficult living and working in a war torn city will be. We see a shift in her throughout the book. While she is a great reporter, she is a little naive at the beginning of the book. We see how she changes into someone who understands the reality of war a little more and just exactly what is at stake. I loved how the author was able to show this shift in the story!

Even though London was at the center of World War II for much of it, I don't feel like I have read about London during the Blitz, which this book centers on. I thought the author did a great job of capturing what it would have been like to be in London at the time. People still must try to go about their daily lives even with the threat of air strikes. They have to find a precarious balance, which is a theme throughout the book. I really liked the descriptions of what the city looked like at the time. This made the book feel real and the things that Ruby and the other characters were going through also added to that. This was a good book with a strong heroine and a good message!

Monday, May 22, 2017

Review: Hair of the Dog to Paint the Town Red: The Curious Origins of Everyday Sayings and Fun Phrases by Andrew Thompson

Title: Hair of the Dog to Paint the Town Red: The Curious Origins of Everyday Sayings and Fun Phrases
Author: Andrew Thompson
Format: Paperback
Publisher: Ulysses Press
Publish Date: March 14, 2017
Source: Publisher

What's the Story?:

From "The English language is riddled with phrases that are complete nonsense. Ever met "a monkey's uncle," seen a "red-handed" thief, or "put a sock in it" when asked? You knows the real meaning of these common expressions, but do you know where, why, and how these idioms entered America's vernacular in the first place? Hair of the Dog to Paint the Town Red uncovers and explains the amazing and bizarre origins of 400 such phrases. Breezy and fun to read, this book of word trivia is far from being just an etymological dictionary. As if he were unraveling 400 little mysteries, the author reveals the backstory of each expression and tells how they've gained their new meanings. For example, you will enjoy following the exploits of the Marquis of Waterford. Was it the Mad Marquis' drunken excess and paint-brush wielding fun in the town of Melton Mowbray that inspired so many to "paint the town red" even today? This question and many others will be answered within."

My Two Cents:

"Hair of the Dog to Paint the Town Red" is a book for lovers of words and phrases. Perhaps it is also for POTUSes who think that they have made up a phrase like "priming the pump" only to be corrected and told that "priming the pump" has existed as an economics-related idiom for almost 90 years. "Priming the pump" is not included in this collection but after last week, it should not be missed after seeing story after story about that particular phrase's origins. 

Have you ever used a colloquial phrase and wondered where it came from? Why do we say things like "beating a dead horse" or "head over heels?" If these questions fly through your mind, this is the book for you.

Set up like a dictionary, this book has tons of phrases, how they are used, and where they came from. Each chapter focuses on a different origins. Let me tell you, there are soooo many funny phrases that come from the British Navy and sooo many more that started because of different sports. This book is for word nerds (and POTUSes that could stand to pick up a book every once in awhile). This book doesn't need to be read in all one sitting. I know that I personally would like to keep it as a reference book for when I have questions about where certain phrases come from. Overall, this is a very interesting book that taught me many new things about why we say the funny phrases we say.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

TLC Book Tours Review: Novel Destinations: A Travel Guide to Literary Landmarks from Jane Austen's Bath to Ernest Hemingway's Key West by Shannon McKenna Schmidt

Title: Novel Destinations: A Travel Guide to Literary Landmarks from Jane Austen's Bath to Ernest Hemingway's Key West
Author: Shannon McKenna Schmidt
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: National Geographic
Publish Date: May 2, 2017
Source: TLC Book Tours and National Geographic Store

What's the Story?:

From "Follow in the footsteps of much-loved authors, including Ernest Hemingway, James Joyce, Virginia Woolf, Mark Twain, Jack Kerouac, Jane Austen, and many more. For vacationers who crave meaningful trips and unusual locales, cue National Geographic's Novel Destinations a guide for bibliophiles to more than 500 literary sites across the United States and Europe. Check into Hemingway's favorite hotel in Sun Valley, or stroll about Bath's Royal Crescent while entertaining fantasies of Lizzie Bennett and her Mr. Darcy. The fully revised second edition includes all of the previous sites with updated locations plus color images and an expanded section on all things Bronte. The book begins with thematic chapters covering author houses and museums, literary festivals and walking tours. Then, in-depth explorations of authors and places take readers roaming Franz Kafka's Prague, James Joyce's Dublin, Louisa May Alcott's New England, and other locales. Peppered with great reading suggestions and little-known tales of literary gossip, Novel Destinations is a unique travel guide, an attractive gift book, and the ultimate bibliophile's delight.""

My Two Cents: 

"Novel Destinations" is for travelers who like me love to find any bookish related sites anywhere they travel. Is there a author related museum nearby? Is there a bookstore nearby? If there is, I will find it. This book makes it easier. This is the perfect book to generate new travel ideas (who wants to go to Key West now to see EVERY. SINGLE. HEMINGWAY. RELATED. THING? *raises hand excitedly*). So if you are like me and love to daydream about your next trip, this is perfect.

The book is organized a couple different ways. There are groups of related authors but the locations are not necessarily close so they probably would make for a better bucket list than itinerary. My favorite section was the actual itineraries. Like I said, I'm ready to hop a plane to Key West now. Because the book is sorted a couple different ways, there are some repeats of authors and places. The organization could have probably been a little bit better. It is hard to find the different sections as they can start in the middle of the page with relatively small headers.

The book also is limited in what it focuses on. The locations are mostly in the U.S. and Europe so it is limited to Western writers and definitely should not be seen as an end all, be all of literary travel. It is also limited in the kinds of authors that it focuses on: mostly authors that I would consider classic authors. This book is only a taste of the bookish places you can go!

This book would make a great gift for a new high school or college graduate just stretching their wings and beginning to see the world!


Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Review: A House Without Windows by Nadia Hashimi

Title: A House Without Windows
Author: Nadia Hashimi
Format: Paperback
Publisher: William Morrow
Publish Date: August 16, 2016
Source: TLC Book Tours and HarperCollins

What's the Story?:

From "For two decades, Zeba was a loving wife, a patient mother, and a peaceful villager. But her quiet life is shattered when her husband, Kamal, is found brutally murdered with a hatchet in the courtyard of their home. Nearly catatonic with shock, Zeba is unable to account for her whereabouts at the time of his death. Her children swear their mother could not have committed such a heinous act. Kamal’s family is sure she did, and demands justice. Barely escaping a vengeful mob, Zeba is arrested and jailed.

Awaiting trial, she meets a group of women whose own misfortunes have led them to these bleak cells: eighteen-year-old Nafisa, imprisoned to protect her from an “honor killing”; twenty-five-year-old Latifa, a teen runaway who stays because it is safe shelter; twenty-year-old Mezghan, pregnant and unmarried, waiting for a court order to force her lover’s hand. Is Zeba a cold-blooded killer, these young women wonder, or has she been imprisoned, like them, for breaking some social rule? For these women, the prison is both a haven and a punishment; removed from the harsh and unforgiving world outside, they form a lively and indelible sisterhood.

Into this closed world comes Yusuf, Zeba’s Afghan-born, American-raised lawyer whose commitment to human rights and desire to help his homeland have brought him back. With the fate this seemingly ordinary housewife in his hands, Yusuf discovers that, like the Afghanistan itself, his client may not be at all what he imagines."

My Two Cents:

When "A House Without Windows" opens, Zeba is accused of killing her husband. No one around her can believe that Zeba, a mild mannered housewife, would dare to kill her husband. In Afghanistan, there is often no recourse for women who commit a crime and Zeba resigns herself to this fate. Yusuf, an Afghanistan born - American raised lawyer, takes up her case and is determined to get her out of jail. This is a great book about modern-day Afghanistan!

The characters in this book are really great. All Zeba wants to do is to live a good life and to protect her children. She never anticipated going to jail. Although she does not like being in jail, she is resigned and does nothing to actively help Yusuf get her out. As the story progresses, we see the secrets of Zeba's past and what drove her come to light. It gives us insight into what makes her tick and how far she had to be pushed to go to the drastic measures that get her into jail.

Yusuf is also another strong character. He really wants to help his home country of Afghanistan. He is driven to make things better and is passionate about trying to practice law in a way that helps people. He deals with the in-between. Growing up, he felt too Afghani to be totally American and now that he is back in Afghanistan, he is often seen as a foreigner. It was interesting to see how he counters this and makes peace with the in-between throughout the book!

Nadia Hashimi is quickly becoming one of my must-read authors. Her books are insightful and tell so much about a culture that I know so little about. The themes that she deals with are complicated. She uses this story to talk about the plight of many women in Afghanistan who feel like they do not have a voice even if something really bad happens to them. She also uses this story to explore what it is like to be torn between two cultures in Yusuf. Both of these themes as well as a taut story line makes this book worth reading!

Follow the Rest of the Tour:

Tuesday, May 16th: Book by Book
Wednesday, May 17th: Real Life Reading
Wednesday, May 17th: A Bookish Affair
Thursday, May 18th: Helen’s Book Blog
Friday, May 19th: Tina Says…
Monday, May 22nd: Reading is My Super Power
Tuesday, May 23rd: Girl Who Reads
Wednesday, May 24th: From the TBR Pile
Wednesday, May 24th: BookNAround
Thursday, May 25th: The Book Diva’s Reads
Friday, May 26th: Read Her Like an Open Book
Monday, May 29th: Based on a True Story
Tuesday, May 30th: Cerebral Girl in a Redneck World
Wednesday, May 31st: A Literary Vacation
Thursday, June 1st: G. Jacks Writes
Friday, June 2nd: Jenn’s Bookshelves

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Review: God-Shaped Hole by Tiffanie DeBartolo

Title: God-Shaped Hole
Author: Tiffanie DeBartolo
Format: ARC
Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark
Publish Date: May 2002 (Just re-released this month!)
Source: Publisher

What's the Story?:

From "With wit and humor, the author brings these characters and their quirky, artsy friends alive. Bottom Line: You'll dig it" -- People

If your intentions are pure
I am seeking a friend
For the end of the world

When Beatrice Jordan meets the unpredictable Jacob Grace, the two wild souls become instant allies. Together they discover an escape in each other's creativity and insecurities, while running from secrets they cannot seem to shake - or a fate that could throw them to the ground...

This 15th Anniversary reissue of Tiffanie DeBartolo's classic love story introduces a new audience of dreamers to a quintessentially real and raw vision of spirit, and inspires everyone to live -- and love -- as vividly as possible."

My Two Cents:

In "God-Shaped Hole," Beatrice randomly answers a newspaper personal ad. She meets Jacob and they fall totally and utterly in love. They believe that they are soul mates but somehow it feels real and not like the cliche that term normally seems to denote. They move fast and they dream big. They dream of getting out of the gray concrete jungle of Los Angeles to somewhere that feels more real, has more heart. It is the place of their dreams and the place that keeps them striving for something better. This is a book that will break your heart in a million different ways. This is the kind of book that encapsulates being alive and living to the fullest.

Wow! This book was so good. I loved the relationship between Beatrice and Jacob. Beatrice is a little more realistic and grounded. Jacob is a dreamer. He lives his life in a very different way than Beatrice that sometimes causes conflict but more often than not makes her see life in a different light. Jacob cannot cut himself off from letting his feelings lead but it's refreshing to see how he puts himself out there. He also helps Beatrice to be a little bit less guarded and more open to possibility. 

The book also brought up a lot of questions about fate. The book starts out with Beatrice talking about how a fortune teller told her that her only love would die young when she was only 12 years old. The logical side of her knows that it was only a fortune teller. The illogical side of her that wants to believe in something greater than random chance believes this may have an affect on her life. Is it fate that she and Jacob meet through a strange little personal ad? Did the personal ad foretell of their love story? Was what happened to Jacob connected to Trixie's past? All of these big, huge questions are up to the reader to decide. I loved that this book was one thing on it's surface (a tragic love story) and another underneath (a rumination on chance vs. fate). 

Do you want a book that will break your heart? Do you want a book that will kiss you hard and then sucker punch you? Do you want a book that captures all of the gorgeous things that being in a good relationship brings? Do you want a book that captures why it's so important to live fully without fixating on the future? Do you want a book that will stick to your guts long after you close the book? This one is for you.

Monday, May 15, 2017

TLC Book Tours Review: The Marriage Bureau: The True Story of How Two Matchmakers Arranged Love in Wartime London by Penrose Halson

Title: The True Story of How Two Matchmakers Arranged Love in Wartime London
Author: Penrose Halson
Format: Paperback
Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks
Publish Date: May 2, 2017
Source: TLC Book Tours

What's the Story?:

From "In the spring of 1939, with the Second World War looming, two determined twenty-four-year-olds, Heather Jenner and Mary Oliver, decided to open a marriage bureau. They found a tiny office on London’s Bond Street and set about the delicate business of matchmaking. Drawing on the bureau’s extensive archives, Penrose Halson—who many years later found herself the proprietor of the bureau—tells their story, and those of their clients.

From shop girls to debutantes; widowers to war veterans, clients came in search of security, social acceptance, or simply love. And thanks to the meticulous organization and astute intuition of the Bureau’s matchmakers, most found what they were looking for.

Penrose Halson draws from newspaper and magazine articles, advertisements, and interviews with the proprietors themselves to bring the romance and heartbreak of matchmaking during wartime to vivid, often hilarious, life in this unforgettable story of a most unusual business."

My Two Cents:

 "The Marriage Bureau" is the story of two women who start at matchmaking firm in London during World War II. They pledge to make love matches between many people from many different walks of life. They set up their business on Bond Street. This book is billed as being a true story but reads more like a frothy, fun story of two women with a lot of anecdotes about some of the out of the ordinary clients that they serve.

This book definitely reads more like fiction and while the book says that the author drew on sources from the time and from interviews, much of the story is told through conversations between different characters in the book, which seems to blur the fiction/ non-fiction line a little bit. I appreciated that the author tried to pull the facts into more of a story rather than a history. I was hoping for more facts (How was the business set up? What was it like to have a business involved with very happy things during wartime?).

Also, since many of the stories about clients are anecdotal and contained to individual couples, there is not much of a story arc there. Individually, the stories about the clients are very entertaining. I did wish that there was a little bit more to this book but it is a good taste of an interesting business. It made me want to read more about this subject!

Friday, May 12, 2017

TLC Book Tours: The Wisdom of Moms and Amazing Dads by Bridget Hamilton

Titles: The Wisdom of Moms and Amazing Dads
Author: Bridget Hamilton
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: National Geographic
Publish Date: May 2, 2017 (respectively)
Source: TLC Book Tours

About The Wisdom of Moms

• Hardcover: 96 pages • Publisher: National Geographic (March 28, 2017) There is so much we can learn about motherhood from the animal kingdom. We can learn how to be the strong role model a child needs, like the snow leopard that teaches her children to survive and thrive on dangerous mountain slopes; to be as resilient as the hardworking sea otter mom; and to serve our communities like the pika, a rabbit-like animal native to northern climates. This is a beautiful tribute to mothers, full of adorable animal photographs and touching anecdotes that show your appreciation for all the wisdom and care that Mom provides. 

About Amazing Dads

• Hardcover: 96 pages • Publisher: National Geographic (May 2, 2017) This fun, lighthearted book is a great way to show Dad how much he means to you. Page after page of stunning animal photographs and heartwarming stories of fatherhood in the animal kingdom showcases the bond between dads and their loved ones. This package is the best way to share words of gratitude and appreciation and express your love for the dad, grandpa, uncle, or stepfather in your life. Stories of remarkable animal dads include:
  • Golden lion tamarins that mash bananas into a mush to hand-feed their babies
  • Wolves that enjoy playful roughhousing with youngsters of the pack
  • Foxes that bury food near the den to teach pups to hunt
  • Rheas, South American birds that not only incubate eggs solo but also serve as single parents
  • Seahorses that carry eggs in their own brood pouch

My Two Cents:

This review is a two-for for both Amazing Dads and The Wisdom of Moms by Bridget Hamilton. Both books are gorgeous and filled with pictures of animals and their babies (could there be anything more adorable?). The books intersperses fun facts about animal parents and their young. It is amazing how much we humans have in common with our animal friends.

The pictures are stunning but would you really expect anything less than that from National Geographic. I love how both books capture a wide variety of animals and therefore a wide variety of animal behavior. I love learning something new from the books I read so I was very excited to see a lot of new-to-me information (did you know that eagles will return to the same breeding site for up to 35 years in a row???).

The Mom book had a lot more about mom relationships with their babies. The Dad book included just as many animal facts but fewer of the facts were focused on dad/ child behavior.

This book would be a great gift for parents! I'm thinking this may be one of my new signature baby shower gifts.


Thursday, May 11, 2017

Review: Stars Over Clear Lake by Loretta Ellsworth

Title: Stars Over Clear Lake
Author: Loretta Ellsworth
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: Thomas Dunne Books
Publish Date: May 2, 2017
Source: Publisher

What's the Story?:

From "For the first time in decades, Lorraine Kindred has returned to the ballroom where she was swept away by the big bands during the 1940s - and by a star-crossed romance. As she takes in the magnificent energy and brassy sounds of her youth, the past comes to life, along with the fateful decision all those years ago that forced her to choose between personal conviction and social expectations, between the two men who had captured her heart. It had been a time of great music and love, but also of war and sacrifice, and now, trying to make peace with her memories, Lorraine must find the courage to face buried secrets. In the process, she will rediscover herself, her passion, and her capacity for resilience."

My Two Cents:

"Stars Over Clear Lake" is the story of Lorraine, a young woman living in Iowa where the best thing happening in her small town is the music and dancing at the Surf Ballroom. The Surf Ballroom happens to be where Ritchie Valens, Buddy Holly, and The Big Bopper played their last concert before "the day the music died." It also burns down in a mysterious fire. Her town also is home to a prison camp for German POWs. Her father hires several of them to work their family farm after Lorraine's brother goes to fight the war in Europe. Lorraine's affections are torn between a boy from town and a boy from the prison camp. Lorraine is also dealing with a mother who prefers her son and is devastated that he has gone off to war. So much happens in this book!

This book has a lot of different story lines in it and is told in two times: one in the 1940s, one in the almost present day as Lorraine is looking back at her life. This is an ambitious book that seeks to tackle a lot of different things and because time is split between so many elements, the book bounces around a lot. The "day the music died" connection is only mentioned briefly, which confuses where the focus is supposed to be. Is it the characters? Is it the places: the Surf Ballroom or the prison camp? Is it the love story? There is technically a love triangle but you can pretty much see from the beginning of the book where Lorraine's affection truly lies so it doesn't induce the drama that I believe was intended.

That being said, I did like a lot of the pieces of plot in the book. The love story between Lorraine and her German soldier was incredibly romantic. This is a true forbidden love story. Lorraine's mother really does not want her daughter to be seen with this German. Lorraine and Jens bond over their love of music and it's music that seems to bring them in and out of each other's lives. The very end of the book was one that made me swoon a bit.

The historical detail of the book was interesting. Our history often brushes over the fact that we had POWs kept here in the states during World War II. I found the uncovering of this hidden history very interesting. The POWs are allowed to work in places like farms and even the Surf Ballroom, which was also eye-opening to me.

Overall, I do wish that this book had been streamlined some. It could have been a very strong single love story with historical elements but everything else that was included muddied the waters somewhat. The ending did pull the book together more so bonus points for that. This was still an enjoyable read for me!


Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Review: If We Were Villains by M.L. Rio

Title: If We Were Villains
Author: M.L. Rio
Format: ARC
Publisher: Flatiron Books
Publish Date: April 11, 2017
Source: Publisher

What's the Story?:

From "On the day Oliver Marks is released from jail, the man who put him there is waiting at the door. Detective Colborne wants to know the truth, and after ten years, Oliver is finally ready to tell it.

Ten years ago: Oliver is one of seven young Shakespearean actors at Dellecher Classical Conservatory, a place of keen ambition and fierce competition. In this secluded world of firelight and leather-bound books, Oliver and his friends play the same roles onstage and off: hero, villain, tyrant, temptress, ingĂ©nue, extra. But in their fourth and final year, the balance of power begins to shift, good-natured rivalries turn ugly, and on opening night real violence invades the students’ world of make believe. In the morning, the fourth-years find themselves facing their very own tragedy, and their greatest acting challenge yet: convincing the police, each other, and themselves that they are innocent."

My Two Cents:

"If We Were Villains" is the story of a group of college students who are studying to be Shakespearean actors at an elite college. This group is at the top of their game. They are constantly chosen for the best parts and their parts start bleeding into real life. When one of them ends up dead and another ends up in jail for the murder, no one can tell what is truth and what is fiction. Nothing adds up. This book had a slowwwww start for me but boy, the middle all the way to the ending was fantastic!

When the book opens, Oliver has been in jail for 10 years and is about to be released. The detective that worked on his case contacts him and wants to know what really happened and Oliver agrees to tell him because he wants absolution even if he has already received the punishment. The story flashes back and forth between the past and the present and we get to know the others in the group. We see how Richard (the one who will end up dead) takes his parts to heart and may take them too far. Is it method acting? Is it for power? That's left up to the reader to decide.

As I mentioned this book had a slow start for me. Yeah, Oliver is in jail for a crime he may or may not have committed in the beginning of the book but at first the cast of characters seems like a bunch of unrealistic elitist actors who take themselves way too seriously. Looks are deceiving and as the book moves, we see that these characters have more substance than the labels assigned to them throughout their acting.

It took to page 100 for me to REALLY get into the story and then it happened with a flash and a bang and the action continued to the very last page. So be patient with this one and you will be rewarded.


Tuesday, May 9, 2017

TLC Book Tours: The Baker's Secret by Stephen P. Kiernan

Title: The Baker's Secret
Author: Stephen P. Kiernan
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: William Morrow
Publish Date: May 2, 2017
Source: TLC Book Tours

What's the Story?:

From "On June 5, 1944, as dawn rises over a small town on the Normandy coast of France, Emmanuelle is making the bread that has sustained her fellow villagers in the dark days since the Germans invaded her country.

Only twenty-two, Emma learned to bake at the side of a master, Ezra Kuchen, the village baker since before she was born. Apprenticed to Ezra at thirteen, Emma watched with shame and anger as her kind mentor was forced to wear the six-pointed yellow star on his clothing. She was likewise powerless to help when they pulled Ezra from his shop at gunpoint, the first of many villagers stolen away and never seen again.

But in the years that her sleepy coastal village has suffered under the enemy, Emma has silently, stealthily fought back. Each day, she receives an extra ration of flour to bake a dozen baguettes for the occupying troops. And each day, she mixes that precious flour with ground straw to create enough dough for two extra loaves—contraband bread she shares with the hungry villagers. Under the cold, watchful eyes of armed soldiers, she builds a clandestine network of barter and trade that she and the villagers use to thwart their occupiers.

But her gift to the village is more than these few crusty loaves. Emma gives the people a taste of hope—the faith that one day the Allies will arrive to save them."

My Two Cents:

"The Baker's Secret" is the story of Emma, a woman who lives in a small town in Normandy, France in the 1940s. Her town would be idyllic if it weren't for the Nazis that have occupied the town and turned everything upside down. The villagers often feel like they don't have a lot of recourse or ways to show their displeasure. Emma does it in small ways as she and the rest of the villagers are waiting for the allies to come.

Emma is a fantastic character. Even though her messing with the bread that she is to provide to the Nazis could get her in a lot of trouble, she doesn't seem to worry about it much at all. She knows that providing comfort to others in her village is worth the trouble. She is so calm and steady throughout the book and I really loved reading about her very subtle protest and fearlessness throughout the book. I liked a lot of the secondary characters as well. Emma's grandmother, Meme, is another good character who was very memorable for me.

The writing of the book felt a little stiff to me. While I liked Emma and the secondary characters, I had this sense of feeling as if I was being held at arms' length to really getting to know the characters. In a way, the stiffness works because it evokes the way that Emma seems to hold most everyone at arms' length. She is most definitely all business!

The setting of the book was great! I really liked the detail in the setting though. I can't recall reading any historical fiction set in Normandy before the allies landed so it was really great to see it in this book! There are some small details in the book like the Nazis changing mileage signs to various cities. That was something that I had never thought of before and I love when historical fiction can teach me something!


Monday, May 8, 2017

Review: The Competition by Donna Russo Morin

Title: The Competition
Author: Donna Russo Morin
Format: ARC
Publisher: Diversion Publishing
Publish Date: April 25, 2017
Source: Publisher

What's the Story?:

From "In a studiolo behind a church, six women gather to perform an act that is, at once, restorative, powerful, and illegal: they paint.
Under the tutelage of Leonardo da Vinci, these six show talent and drive equal to that of any man, but in Renaissance Florence, they must hide their skills, or risk the scorn of the church, the city, and the law. 

A commission to paint a fresco in the church of Santo Spirito is about to be announced and Florence s countless artists each seek the fame and glory this lucrative job will provide. Viviana, a noblewoman freed from a terrible marriage, and now able to pursue her artistic passions, sees a potential life-altering opportunity for herself and her fellow artists. The women first speak to Lorenzo de Medici himself, and finally, they submit a bidfor the right to paint it. And they win. The very public commission belongs to them. 

But with the victory comes a powerful cost. The church will not stand for women painting, especially not in a house of worship. The city is not ready to consider women in positions of power, and in Florence, artists wield tremendous power. Even the women themselves are hesitant; the attention they will bring upon themselves willdisrupt their families, and even put them in physical danger.
All the while, Viviana grows closer to Sansone, her soldier lover, who is bringing to her a joy that she never knew with her deceased husband. And fellow-artist Isabetta has a flame reignited, sparked by Lorenzo himself. Power and passion collide in this sumptuous historical novel of shattering limitations, one brushstroke at a time."

My Two Cents:

"The Competition" is the second book in Donna Russo Morin's Da Vinci's Disciples series. In this book, the women of the first book are back and have been continuing to work and hone their skills under master painter Leonardo Da Vinci. Florence is a buzz with a competition to paint a fresco in the famous Santo Spirito. The women know that this could be their chance to be accepted by other artists and to finally break into the art world, which is a man's world. This is a great follow on to the first book!

First things first, you should go back and read the first book: "Portrait of a Conspiracy." The second book jumps right into the action while the first book had more of the back stories of the women and Da Vinci. You may find yourself confused by the characters and besides, the first book is just really good.

Historical fiction is amazing. HistFic books like this one have a great way to introduce readers to things that they never knew before. I still found myself amazed at the women jumping over what was expected of them and striving for something greater. The art world is still not very friendly to them even if they have the backing of Da Vinci but that does not deter them from making waves, which I really liked.

The writing of the book is good! The characters continued to be interesting. I loved Da Vinci in this book and I liked how the author built on the stories of the women from the first book. Filled with great detail and other historical figures at the time, this book was a real treat!


Thursday, May 4, 2017

2017 Reading Challenges - April Check In

Here's where I am with my reading challenges! 
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)
  • February (A book by a person of color): Dragon Springs Road by Janie Chang (2/15) 
  • March: A book about an interesting woman: Scrappy Little Nobody by Anna Kendrick (3/25) 
  • April (A book with an unreliable narrator): We Were Liars by E. Lockhart (4/6)

 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)
  • A book with a subtitle: Caught in the Revolution: Petrograd, Russia, 1917 – A World on the Edge  by Helen Rappaport (2/3)
  • A book that's published in 2017: The Impossible Fortress by Jason Rekulak (2/5)
  • A book with a red spine: Stalin's Daughter by Rosemary Sullivan (2/8)
  • A book of letters: 100 Love Notes by Hyong Yi (2/13) 
  • A book about food: A Square Meal by Jane Ziegelman, Andrew Coe (2/27)
  • A book written by someone you admire: The Princess Diarist by Carrie Fisher (3/1) 
  • A book by an author from a country you've never visited: Havana Real by Yoani Sanchez (3/5)
  • A book where the main character is a different ethnicity than you: Burn Baby Burn by Meg Medina (3/5) 
  • A novel set during wartime:The Orphan's Tale by Pam Jenoff (3/10) 
  • A book set in two different time periods: A Bridge Across the Ocean bySusan Meissner (3/12)
  • A book with a cat on the cover: A Few of the Girls by Maeve Binchy (3/14)
  • A book by or about a person who has a disability: The Secret Life of Ivan Isaenko by Scott Stambach (3/14)
  • A book about an interesting woman: Love Warrior by Glennon Doyle Melton (3/22)
  • A book with pictures: Shockaholic by Carrie Fisher (3/28)
  • A book by a person of color: Born a Crime by Trevor Noah (3/31)
  • A book with a title that's a character's name: The Last Painting of Sara de Vos by Dominic Smith (4/1)
  • A book from a nonhuman perspective: Watership Down by Richard Adams (4/13)
  • A book involving travel: The Gods of Tango by Carolina de Robertis (4/19)
  • A book set in the wilderness: The Wolf Road by Beth Lewis

Pop Sugar Ultimate Reading Challenge Advanced 

  • A book about an immigrant or refugee: The Radius of Us by Marie Marquadt (1/23)
  • A book about a difficult topic: Windy City Blues by Renee Rosen (3/2) 
  • A book with an eccentric character: Eggshells by Catriona Lally (3/14)  

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)
  • Read a fantasy novel.: Wintersong by S. Jae-Jones (1/31)
  • Read a book that is set within 100 miles of your location.: The Wicked City by Beatriz Williams 2/9)
  • Read a book that is set more than 5000 miles from your location: Pachinko by Min Jin Lee (3/11)
  • Read a YA or middle grade novel by an author who identifies as LGBTQ+.: Our Own Private Universe by Robin Talley (3/23) 
  • Read a book about books: A World Between Two Covers by Ann Morgan (3/26) 
  • Read a book published by a micropress: Concepcion and the Baby Brokers by Deborah Clearman (4/6)
  • Read a travel memoir: Schadenfreude by Rebecca Schuman (4/18)
  • Read a book published between 1900 and 1950: I Change Worlds by Anna Louise Strong
  • Read a book by an immigrant or with a central immigration narrative: Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue

Curious Iguana's Read Broader
  • Peek into the Past: Putin Country by Anne Garrels (1/7)
  • Justice for All: Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance (2/1)
  • Justice for All: Excellent Daughters by Katherine Zoepf (2/6)
  • Choose Your Own Category (Global Voices): The Chosen Maiden (3/5) 
  • LGBTQ+ Perspectives: Becoming Nicole by Amy Ellis Nutt (3/20)
  • Choose Your Own Category (Global Voices): The Confessions of Young Nero by Margaret George (3/20)
  • Choose Your Own Category (Justice for All): One Child by Mei Fong
  • Choose Your Own Category (Justice for All): Half the Sky by Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn

Challenge Totals:
  • January: 10 books
  • February: 9 books
  • March: 19 books 
  • April: 11 books
 How did it go this month?
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