Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Reading Challenge Update: Closing In

As a reminder, I am aiming to read a book from or set in each country the Department of State recognizes, which is 195 countries!
I finally feel like I'm staring at the end of this challenge. It may take me longer than December to get through the rest of the books but I know that I've made a valiant effort this year!
I read books from this many countries in November:
You can check out my progress on my map or see a list of where and what I'm reading here.

I have read 125 books for this challenge so far.

Here are the countries that I still need suggestions for. Got anything for me?:

  • Iraq
  • Nepal
  • Niger
  • Panama
  • Portugal
  • Qatar
  • Serbia
  • Seychelles
  • Slovakia
  • Slovenia
  • Switzerland

Monday, December 9, 2019

Review: Meg and Jo by Virginia Kantra

Title: Meg and Jo
Author: Virginia Kantra
Format: ARC
Publisher: Berkley
Publish Date: December 3, 2019
Source: Publisher

What's the Story?:

From "The March sisters—reliable Meg, independent Jo, stylish Amy, and shy Beth—have grown up to pursue their separate dreams. When Jo followed her ambitions to New York City, she never thought her career in journalism would come crashing down, leaving her struggling to stay afloat in a gig economy as a prep cook and secret food blogger.

Meg appears to have the life she always planned—the handsome husband, the adorable toddlers, the house in a charming subdivision. But sometimes getting everything you’ve ever wanted isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

When their mother’s illness forces the sisters home to North Carolina for the holidays, they’ll rediscover what really matters.

One thing’s for sure—they’ll need the strength of family and the power of sisterhood to remake their lives and reimagine their dreams."

My Two Cents:

"Meg and Jo" is a contemporary retelling of Louisa May Alcott's "Little Women." "Little Women" is definitely one of my favorite classics. I love the story of sisterhood that it represents and that sisterhood is such a universal theme that it still resonates all these years later and still inspires retellings like this book! Holiday season is often comfort read season for me and this book definitely fit that bill!

In this retelling, Jo has left her small North Carolina town for the grandeur of New York City to try to make it as a writer. With the recession, she finds herself instead as a cook in an amazing restaurant with a side gig as a blogger to make ends meet. Meg has stayed in North Carolina and is a stay-at-home-mom to her two adorable toddler twins. While Jo is making her way in the world away from home, it seems like it is up to Meg to hold down the home front as the myth of the idyllic March family home life begins to fray.

I loved the different touches throughout the book that hearkened back to the original. You see it in Jo's love affair (oh my, did I love Chef Eric) and in Meg's marriage to John, that is much more than what it seems when the book first opens. Amy is there and Beth is as well (she spends most of the time in the book chasing her dreams as an actress in Branson, Missouri, an interesting - and happier- twist). The Laurie character is there and I suppose that is the one place where I felt the retelling fell a little bit for me. He is such an integral part of the original story but here, he felt a bit flat and more like an annoying bit player that didn't have the same sort of purpose the original character had. But overall, I liked the new takes on the characters!

This book definitely kept the same spirit as the original and I loved seeing how the author imagined some of these beloved personalities in a contemporary story. This book definitely made me so very happy!


Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Review: Shooting For the Stars: My Journey to Become Ireland's First Astronaut by Norah Patten

Title: Shooting For the Stars: My Journey to Become Ireland's First Astronaut
Author: Norah Patten
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: The O'Brien Press
Publish Date: September 16, 2019
Source: PR

What's the Story?:

From "In 2017 Dr. Norah Patten, from Ballina in Co. Mayo, was one of 12 participants from around the world selected to take part in a unique scientist-astronaut training programme, Project Possum. She is now on course to become Ireland’s first astronaut!

Follow Norah as she brings you on a journey high above the earth and into space. You will learn about space travel, astronaut training and life without gravity. Norah will answer those all-important questions such as how long does it take to become an astronaut and where exactly astronauts go to the toilet?!

Did you know that our sun is a star, just like all the stars we see at night?
Did you know that, in space, the astronauts have to use special ropes to hold themselves down while running on the treadmill?
A fun and engaging book about space and becoming an astronaut but most importantly a book about following your dreams no matter how big!"

My Two Cents:

"Shooting for the Stars" is a fantastic book by Dr. Norah Patten who has a chance of becoming Ireland's first astronaut. My daughters are very space obsessed right now. We love watching the live feeds from the International Space Station and one of my daughters was Buzz Aldrin for Halloween. We love looking at the night sky and my girls have said that they want to go to space someday together (twin astronauts FTW!). When your kids have cool interests like this, you jump in head first! This book was perfect for continuing to stoke those fires in my daughters!

Norah Patten has always dreamed about going to space. She has made a fascinating career out of being a scientist and now has a chance to take the next step. My girls were super interested in her and her story made for a good entry into talking about what my girls dream of doing some day.

The book also has a lot of good information about general space travel and what life on the International Space Station is like. The book explores a lot of the work that astronauts do and what their lives are like in zero G! I also really liked that the book had such great illustrations, which allowed my girls to picture what the book was talking about even though they are younger than the age that the book is geared for. This was a great book that I know we are going to keep going back to over and over again!


Thursday, November 28, 2019

Warm Thanksgiving Wishes!

May your Thanksgiving be filled with family, friends, food, and floods of good books!

Friday, November 8, 2019

Review: Roar Like a Dandelion by Ruth Krauss

Title: Roar Like a Dandelion
Author: Ruth Krauss
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: Harper Collins
Publish Date: October 1, 2019
Source: PR

What's the Story?:

From "From Ruth Krauss, the children’s book author of The Carrot Seed and A Hole Is to Dig, comes this never-before-published ABC book of one-liners—brought to life by artist Sergio Ruzzier.

Dance with a leaf.

Jump like a raindrop.

Sit in the sun and shine."

My Two Cents: 

"Roar Like a Dandelion" is an off the beaten path alphabet book with adorable drawings. With my four year old girls being in Pre-K, the alphabet and letters are big news in our household. My girls are learning to write and it is both cute and amazing at the same time. With the alphabet getting so much play at the A Bookish Affair household, we go through alphabet books at an alarming rate. Many of them seem the same so I'm appreciative of alphabet books that have something going for them like this one. This one has really funny things for each letter. Some of them are noises (like roaring like a dandelion however they roar) and others paint really lovely pictures in our heads. Because this is not your standard alphabet fare, it allowed me to ask my girls a lot of questions about what they think of certain things in the book and also acting them out. 

This was a really fun book and it's one that my girls ask for again and again! I also really love the art in the book - all of the little critters are so cute!


Tuesday, November 5, 2019

Reading Challenge Update!

As a reminder, I am aiming to read a book from or set in each country the Department of State recognizes, which is 195 countries!
This was another really good month! There are so many places that don't seem to have much literature that has been translated into English. Rather than move towards a lot of non-fiction, I have started to read poetry from some of the countries that it has been more difficult to find books for! I don't read much poetry so this has been a great exercise to broaden my horizons!
I read books from this many countries in October:
You can check out my progress on my map or see a list of where and what I'm reading here.

I have read 104 books for this challenge so far.

Take a look at my list! What else should I be reading?

Monday, November 4, 2019

HFVBT Review: The Highlander's Christmas Bride by Vanessa Kelly

Title: The Highlander's Christmas Bride
Author: Vanessa Kelly
Format: ARC
Publisher: Kensington/ Zebra
Publish Date: October 29, 2019
Source: HFVBT

The Highlander's Christmas Bride (Clan Kendrick, #2) 

What's the Story?:

From "Being thrown over by the man she expected to marry was humiliating enough. Now that Donella Haddon, grandniece of the Earl of Riddick, has also proven a failure as a nun, she has no choice but to return to her family's estate. The brawny Highlander sent to escort her is brash, handsome, and the only thing standing between Donella and a gang of would-be kidnappers. But the scandal in her past can't be so easily outrun...

Wealthy widower Logan Kendrick was expecting to meet a plain, pious spinster—not a gorgeous, sharp-tongued lass who can hold her own in any ambush. Though she's known as the Flower of Clan Graham, Donella is no shrinking violet. In fact, she might be the perfect woman to bring happiness back to his lonely little son's life, just in time for Christmas.  But first he must protect her from ugly gossip and a mysterious threat—and convince her that their wild, unexpected desire is heaven sent."

My Two Cents:

"The Highlander's Christmas Bride" is a tasty holiday confection about Donella, a woman who finds herself back home after failing to become a nun like she originally planned. She is being protected by Logan Kendrick, a man who is not expecting to have to protect someone like Donella. She is not a weak, fainting lady. Logan quickly realizes that the unexpected is just what he needs.

We still have just under two months until Christmas and with the weather starting to feel chilly, I've been looking for books like this one to warm me up. Romance just feels really good to read as a bit of an escape when the holiday rush starts. When I saw Vanessa Kelly's name on this book, I knew that I would be in good hands!

This is the second book in the Clan Kendrick series but it is very much a standalone book and you don't need to have read the previous books. This book has a lot of the hallmarks of Vanessa Kelly's other books such as the great romance between our main characters, Logan and Donella. I loved seeing how these characters grew throughout the book and how their relationship changed throughout the book. This was certainly a festive way to welcome the season!


Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Review: Epic Journeys: 245 Life-Changing Adventures by National Geographic

Title: Epic Journeys: 245 Life-Changing Adventures
Author: National Geographic
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: National Geographic
Publish Date: October 22, 2019
Source: TLC Book Tours and PR

What's the Story?:

From "From navigating the class-five rapids of the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon to sandboarding the slopes of a volcano in Nicaragua to dogsledding in the Arctic, this beautiful and comprehensive book offers trips of a lifetime for explorers and adrenaline junkies alike. Filled with more than 300 vivid photographs, this inspirational guide reveals over 225 of the planet's best destinations for hikers, skiers, divers, rafters, and more. You'll also find everything you need to know for the ultimate epic journey: what to see, when to go, and what to do. Combining adventure with cultural experiences--for example, a safari through Madagascar or visiting the ruins of Buddhist temples after sea kayaking the warm waters of Vietnam--this one-of-a-kind collection, complemented by top ten lists and adventurer essays covering everything from the best hiking trails to the top wildlife parks, will lead you to new heights of exploration."

My Two Cents:

"Epic Journeys" is a full-color guide to some of the most stunning, fantastic, and downright drool-worthy trips in the entire world! Lovingly put together by trusted travel connoisseur National Geographic, this is a beautiful guide to some very bucket list worthy trips. This is the perfect book to inspire your next grand adventure!

Broken down into sections dedicated to different areas of the world, this book is very easy to navigate. The book includes gorgeous pictures of various destinations. It also includes itineraries for different places as well as stories from some National Geographic writers who have been there and done ALL of that. I also really liked the inclusion of top ten lists for a variety of topics to include safaris and bird-watching. Some of the places I was familiar with but this book also explores a lot of corners of the world that I was unfamiliar with. I must have added a bazillion places that to my to-travel-to list. It was hard to find a trip in this book that didn't sound amazing and like the trip of a lifetime!

This book is absolutely gorgeous and would make a great gift for those in your life that love to travel! It's definitely a book that I know that I am going to want to revisit over and over again. My only criticism is that the book didn't come with unlimited plane tickets to at least get me started on traveling to all of these amazing places!!!

Sunday, October 27, 2019

Review: The Museum of Lost Love by Gary Barker

Title: The Museum of Lost Love
Author: Gary Barker
Format: Paperback
Publisher: World Editions
Publish Date: October 1, 2019
Source: PR

What’s the Story?:

Katia and Goran are in love. Tyler is in therapy. On a summer trip to Zagreb, the couple discover an unusual museum—a museum that displays mementos of broken relationships. Inside, Goran stumbles upon an exhibit that seems to be addressed to him, from a girl he met in a Sarajevo refugee camp at age fourteen. What follows is a whirlwind summer of reconnecting with lost pasts: Goran confronts the youth he lost during the Yugoslav Wars, Katia heads to Brazil to find her roots, and Afghanistan veteran Tyler pours out his soul. Set against alternating backdrops of violent circumstances, this novel is a soulful testament to the uncontainable flourishing of the human heart.

My Two Cents:

“The Museum of Lost Love” is a love story and being vulnerable enough to let love in even when it seems like love will just bite you back. This is a story about Katie, a woman who knows little of her background, and Goran, who constantly seems to be running from his background and from the horrific experiences that he had as a young child during the Yugoslav Wars. It’s also the story of Tyler, a veteran of the Afghanistan War, who is back home and very much still trying to get used to what life looks like after war where things may be even more difficult.

I really enjoyed this book. It was interesting to see how the stories intertwine with each other. They mesh together in some really unexpected ways. I was definitely drawn to both stories. We get to see Katia and Goran grapple with their pasts in order to define their futures. We see Tyler figure out what really matters when it comes to his son and how they move together as a family.

The writing of the book is really good. I loved how the story lines were interspersed with stories from the Museum of Lost Love. These little vignettes cover all sorts of different story lines and some of them are really poignant. I was amazed with how much the author was able to pack into such a small amount of space.  The vignettes cover all different  types of love.  The author is at his best when he’s showing the inner motivations of each character. All the characters feel very real and the mauIn characters are ones I will be thinking about for a long time!

Friday, October 18, 2019

TLC Book Tours: Ribbons of Scarlet: A Novel of the French Revolution by Multiple Authors

Title: Ribbons of Scarlet: A Novel of the French Revolution 
Authors: Kate Quinn, Sophie Perinot, Stephanie Dray, Heather Webb, Laura Kamoie, and E. Knight
Format: Paperback
Publisher: William Morrow
Publish Date: October 1, 2019
Source: TLC Book Tours and HarperCollins

What's the Story?:

From "In late eighteenth-century France, women do not have a place in politics. But as the tide of revolution rises, women from gilded salons to the streets of Paris decide otherwise—upending a world order that has long oppressed them.

Blue-blooded Sophie de Grouchy believes in democracy, education, and equal rights for women, and marries the only man in Paris who agrees. Emboldened to fight the injustices of King Louis XVI, Sophie aims to prove that an educated populace can govern itself--but one of her students, fruit-seller Louise Audu, is hungrier for bread and vengeance than learning. When the Bastille falls and Louise leads a women’s march to Versailles, the monarchy is forced to bend, but not without a fight. The king’s pious sister Princess Elisabeth takes a stand to defend her brother, spirit her family to safety, and restore the old order, even at the risk of her head.

But when fanatics use the newspapers to twist the revolution’s ideals into a new tyranny, even the women who toppled the monarchy are threatened by the guillotine. Putting her faith in the pen, brilliant political wife Manon Roland tries to write a way out of France’s blood-soaked Reign of Terror while pike-bearing Pauline Leon and steely Charlotte Corday embrace violence as the only way to save the nation. With justice corrupted by revenge, all the women must make impossible choices to survive--unless unlikely heroine and courtesan’s daughter Emilie de Sainte-Amaranthe can sway the man who controls France’s fate: the fearsome Robespierre."

My Two Cents:

 "Ribbons of Scarlet" is a fantastic story of the French Revolution told in six parts by some of the powerhouse women authors of the historical fiction world. The French Revolution is definitely well-trodden territory for historical fiction but this book feels fresh as it gives a lot of new perspectives to such an important event through the eyes of the women who experienced it firsthand. These women are strong, principled, cunning in very different ways! This book was truly a treat!

One of the things that I love best about reading both non-fiction history and historical fiction is the lessons that they hold for the present day and those nuggets are most definitely strewn throughout this book. Women did not often have a platform during this time but all of these women find small and big ways to make waves and stand for what they believe in! Always an important lesson and one that is definitely well done throughout this book!

Each of the six sections of the book is written by a different author but the whole story flows while giving us different perspectives and showing different aspects of the French Revolution. I love this concept and I think it works really well to essentially breakdown super complex events into something that is easier to follow. If you're a historical fiction fan, you may have caught some of the authors in this book in other History 360 books such as "A Day of Fire" and "A Sea of Sorrow" among others. They have found a really great way to tackle some of the big events of history. "Ribbons of Scarlet" is the first History 360 book to be traditionally published, which will hopefully bring these stories to more people. The concept is much the same as the other books although this book really felt more cohesive and a whole story rather than only showing various perspectives.

The characters that we're introduced to are really fantastic and they are so different. We meet some of the great thinkers of the revolutions, the students, the traditionalists, and the muscles of France. They come from different experiences and classes. All of them are women. All of them seem to be stymied in some way because of their sex. All of them find ways to make their voices heard. Present day, when it feels like there is not much you can do about the things going on in the world, this book is seriously inspiring!


Friday, October 11, 2019

Review: Dinosnores by Sandra Boynton

Title: Dinosnores
Author: Sandra Boynton
Format: Board Book
Publisher: Workman Publishing Company
Publish Date: September 3, 2019
Source: PR

What's the Story?:

From "'Honk SHOOOOOO! Honk SHOOOOOO! . . .'     

The snoring goes on, on and on through the night. They never stop snoring till the first morning light.

Ah, all those dinosaurs look so cute in their pajamas. See them yawn and stretch and brush their teeth. Soon they’ll be sound asleep, and . . . OH NO! SNORING!!!

Little kids love big dinosaurs. They also love the sublime silliness of Sandra Boynton books. So what better way to wind down at the end of the day than with DINOSNORES, a rhyming and rhythmic ritual of getting ready for bed—featuring a pile of loudly snoozing dinos."

My Two Cents:

"Dinosnores" is the latest book by beloved writer of bedtime books, Sandra Boynton! We love her books in my house. My four year olds love the word and we especially liked imitating all of the snoring the dinosaurs do throughout the book. Bedtime is often a good time for us to have one last giggle before we slip off to dreamland and this book definitely is a good fit for that! This short book is a welcome addition to our kiddos' library.

As always, Ms. Boynton's illustrations are fantastic! They are super bright and super cute! My girls are dino obsessed right now and they loved the pictures of the very noisy but still downright cuddly dinos as they snored on through the night. The words are simple and fun and my girls loved repeating the story to me. This was a great book that I know we are going to be revisiting a lot!


Thursday, October 10, 2019

Review: Barbie Forever: Her Inspiration, History, and Legacy by Robin Gerber

Title: Barbie Forever: Her Inspiration, History, and Legacy
Author: Robin Gerber
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: Epic Ink
Publish Date: September 30, 2019
Source: PR

What's the Story?:

From "Barbie Forever: Her Inspiration, History, and Legacy presents a detailed, full-color portrait of this beloved doll through all-new interviews, original sketches, vintage photos, advertisements, a foldout timeline, and much more. Explore how the doll came to be, what it takes to create one of her many looks, and how her legacy continues to influence the world.

Since her debut in 1959, Barbie has been breaking boundaries and highlighting major moments in art, fashion, and culture. She has been an interpreter of taste and style in every historic period she has lived through and has reflected female empowerment through the more than 200 careers she has embodied. Today, an international icon, Barbie continues to spark imaginations and influence conversations around the world.

Barbie Forever is a vibrant celebration for the "Barbie Girl" in all of us."

My Two Cents:

"Barbie Forever" is a positive look back at one of the most iconic toys around: Barbie. Starting from her beginning in the middle of the 20th century, Barbie has been the both the subject of praise and scrutiny. I was definitely a Barbie girl (in a Barbie world) growing up and so this toy has a very special place in my heart and I was interested to get a better look at the history through this book!

As I mentioned before, this is a very positive look back at Barbie's origins and her history. The toy faced much scrutiny for offering unrealistic body types and sometimes problematic story lines. This book doesn't really mention that and focuses on the highlights of Barbie's history. And to Mattel's credit (Mattel is Barbie's manufacturer), the brand has made great strides recently in being more inclusive and honoring the diversity of the real world (it's never too late). I appreciated seeing how the brand had changed throughout time. Barbie goes from being a fashion doll to show off pretty clothes to something more like what she was for me growing up: a tool for my imagination. The book captures that magic!

The book is also beautiful! It has a ton of full color pictures that celebrate both where Barbie has been and where she could potentially be going. This was such a great walk down memory lane for me. My sisters and I had an EPIC collection of Barbies that we loved to play with and we definitely had so many of the Barbies that appeared in the book.

With the holidays being just around the corner, this book would be a perfect gift for those that grew up with Barbie like I did!


Friday, October 4, 2019

Reading Challenge Update!

As a reminder, I am aiming to read a book from or set in each country the Department of State recognizes, which is 195 countries!
This was my best month yet!
I read books from this many countries in September:
You can check out my progress on my map or see a list of where and what I'm reading here.

I have read 87 books for this challenge so far.

Take a look at my list! What else should I be reading?

Monday, September 30, 2019

Review: Some Stories: Lessons from the Edge of Business and Sport by Yvon Chouinard

Title: Some Stories: Lessons from the Edge of Business and Sport
Author: Yvon Chouinard
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: Patagonia
Publish Date: April 16, 2019
Source: PR

What's the Story?: 

Synopsis: "For nearly 80 years, Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard has followed his own advice, pursuing outdoor adventures, business excellence and environmental activism with equal fervor. Since 1950, he has captured the lessons and revelations he’s learned in articles and books, personal letters and poetry, introductions and eulogies."

My Two Cents:

In "Some Stories: Lessons from the Edge of Business and Sport," you get a front row seat with Patagonia-founder Yvon Chouinard. Not only did he start a very successful outdoor gear company, he also believes in the power of nature and the need to protect it for future generations to come. Patagonia as a company has been making waves recently for some of the work that it is doing on topics such as conservation and climate change. 

I was drawn to this book because I have really liked following Patagonia's shifts as a company committed to doing better. I really didn't know much about Yvon Chouniard before reading this book and while a flat-out biography of him would have been interesting, it was really great to get to know him through his own words and specifically reading his words on things he really cared about. This is a man that has a very good sense of himself and what he wants to strive towards. 

The book contains all sorts of stories that Chouniard wants to tell from both his personal adventures and long career. There are essays on wonderful places and the experiences he had there (my to-travel list is so much longer now). There are ruminations on the problems that plague our natural world and seem insurmountable. There are tributes to those that Chouniard loved and lost. One of my favorite essays in the book is a letter that he writes to his daughter as she goes off to school and to make her own way in the world. The essays throughout the book are passionate and often moving. In addition to some lovely odes to this beautiful world we live in, there is also some pretty amazing photography.

This book made me want to go take a long, beautiful walk somewhere with mountains, trees, lakes, and streams and just think about this wonderful place we call home. This book would be a lovely gift for anyone who loves the great outdoors!

Friday, September 27, 2019

TLC Book Tours: No Judgements by Meg Cabot

Title: No Judgements
Author: Meg Cabot
Format: ARC
Publisher: William Morrow
Publish Date: September 24, 2019
Source: TLC Book Tours and HarperCollins

What's the Story?:

From "When a massive hurricane severs all power and cell service to Little Bridge Island—as well as its connection to the mainland—twenty-five-year-old Bree Beckham isn’t worried . . . at first. She’s already escaped one storm—her emotionally abusive ex—so a hurricane seems like it will be a piece of cake.

But animal-loving Bree does become alarmed when she realizes how many islanders have been cut off from their beloved pets. Now it’s up to her to save as many of Little Bridge’s cats and dogs as she can . . . but to do so, she’s going to need help—help she has no choice but to accept from her boss’s sexy nephew, Drew Hartwell, the Mermaid CafĂ©’s most notorious heartbreaker.

But when Bree starts falling for Drew, just as Little Bridge’s power is restored and her penitent ex shows up, she has to ask herself if her island fling was only a result of the stormy weather, or if it could last during clear skies too."

My Two Cents: 

In "No Judgements," Bree just wants to hide from her old life. A small island in the Florida Keys during a hurricane seems like a good place to do that, no? Bree is carving out a new life: she has a small apartment and a great roommate, she is working at the cafe in town for a great owner, and she is desperately trying to recover to a bad relationship so when the cafe owner's nephew walks into her life, she is definitely trying to resist his charms. Will she succeed? Will the hurricane knock her off her feet?

This is a satisfying, solid, yet predictable entrance to a brand new series by author Meg Cabot! I have loved so many of Meg Cabot's books and I especially love how they most definitely fall into the category of comfort reads. Nothing was shocking in this book and even some of the surprises in the book were not particularly surprising. That being said, sometimes you are just looking for a warm hug of a book, surprising or not, and the book definitely fits that bill.

This book introduces a brand new cast of characters for a planned series. I think this is one place where the book fell a little flat for me. I really felt for Bree and I really enjoyed the romance in the book. But aside from the main couple, we have a lot of characters who are simply introduced but not really fleshed out so I would love to see if that changes in the next installation of the Little Bridge series.

This was a solid start to a new series!


Thursday, September 26, 2019

HFVBT Review and Guest Post: The Queen of Warriors by Zenobia Neil

Title: The Queen of Warriors
Author: Zenobia Neil
Format: ARC
Publisher: Hypatia Books
Publish Date: September 19, 2019
Source: HFVBT

What's the Story?:

From "Alexandra of Sparta vowed her sword and her heart to the goddess Artemis. And the goddess blessed her. But no warrior lives at peace, and soon, Alexandra loses her title, her troops, and everyone she loves, including the man who holds her heart.

Cursed by a Babylonian witch, she is forced to return to a city she once conquered to make amends. There she is captured by the powerful Persian rebel, Artaxerxes. As his prisoner, she awaits judgment for her crimes. But Artaxerxes is not what he seems. With death approaching, Alexandra must face her violent past and discover the truth of her captor’s identity before it’s too late."

My Two Cents:

In "The Queen of Warriors," Alexandra of Sparta is a fierce warrior. Her heart belongs to no one beside herself. She believes deeply in her cause, no matter the tradeoffs, which is exactly why she finds herself in the situation she is in in the beginning of the book. She has been captured and her life is in danger but looks can be deceiving. I thoroughly enjoyed this fast-paced, exciting, sexy novel!

The characters are Alexandra of Sparta is very much a Xena the Warrior Princess kind of character. She is strong and she is driven. She is allowed to act like a man in many ways during a time where this was not common. She can fight with the best of them. She beds whomever she wants when she wants it. She is seriously empowered and so wonderful to read about. Artaxerxes is the man that captured the fierce Warrior Queen Alexandra. I don't want to give too much away but I really like how his story is explored and how he is changed by all of the various challenges that he faces. So good! 

This book was a great mix of historical fiction and erotic fiction. The love scenes are really great and sooooo very steamy. I loved how complicated the relationships (and therefore the love scenes) were throughout the book. Sex is used in so many different ways and it's a really interesting exploration. 

The writing is really good. This is the first book that I've read by this author but now I know I need to go back and read more by Zenobia Neil. I loved all of the historical fiction infused into the story! The detail gives a great sense of time and place. This book ends on a great cliffhanger and I have to know what happens! My only regret is that I have to wait until the next book!

Guest Post:

I am so very excited to welcome Zenobia Neil here to A Bookish Affair!

Bringing Long Dead Characters Who Never Existed to Life
Historical Fiction: Writing about Something You (Initially) Know Very Little About

When I first started writing The Queen of Warriors seven years ago, I knew very little about Hellenic Persia. My characters came to me fully formed, with desires and fears. I could clearly see my Persian main character, Artaxerxes, in leather trousers, and my Spartan woman warrior, Alexandra, wearing a leather dress like Xena: Warrior Princess, but I wasn't sure what language they communicated in. I had no idea what they ate or how they illuminated their dwellings. 
Writing a story that takes place thousands of years ago is challenging for several reasons. How can we even know what people thought and felt so long ago? There isn’t much recorded information, and the writings we do have are often lists of exchanges or contracts. There are a good amount of Hellenistic statues, coins, and vases. The visual images left from so long ago were very inspirational, taking into consideration that the heroic nudity portrayed in many ancient works of art was aesthetic and not representational. These images also gave me insight on their hairstyles—Alexander started the trend of Greek men going beardless, and he inspired the model of “heroic” hair (slightly long and wavy.) It tickles me to think that my Greek characters shaved and wore their hair in a style that was modern.
To discover what they ate, I consulted ancient cookbooks, but a lot of them focused on Roman cuisine. I turned to Xenophon and Herodotus, and biographies of Alexander the Great, but what really brought flavor to my story was reading Persian cookbooks—sour cherry rice with lamb and chilled cucumber-mint yogurt soup are a couple of my favorites. 
Early on in my research, my characters became more real when I read about grave goods, specifically, the jewelry ancient people were buried with. I love wearing jewelry, and something about that detail really gave my characters life.
 Alexandra has an ouroboros ring that her mother gave her. For Alexandra, jewelry isn’t something she wears to make her look pretty: it’s a connection to the past, a status symbol, and insurance. She always has a large amount of gold on her. Conversely, Artaxerxes was born rich and is willing to sell his gold armbands for scrolls.
Artaxerxes wears golden armbands capped with lynxes with ruby eyes, symbolic of his house. This jewelry fed my imagination, and I created a title for him based on it—The Golden Lynx of Rhagae. Though it is completely made up, it seemed fitting for a royal Persian struggling to keep his kingdom from Greek colonizers. One aspect of The Queen of Warriors is the idea of telling the tale of colonization from two different perspectives. We are used to reading the Alexander the Great narrative from the Greek perspective, but it’s not hard to imagine that from the Persian side, Alexander was no hero.
During my research I read that the Greeks essentially called all outsiders “barbarian.” Persians did the same. It tickled me to imagine my characters sitting around calling each other barbarian while still admiring each other. 
Despite this idea of “otherness,” both my main characters grew up in a multi-cultural world, rich in language, architecture, textiles, cuisine, poetry, and religion. The diversity of religions and gods at this time is as important to my novel as it was to my characters.  As a Zoroastrian, Artaxerxes strives to uphold the light and never lie. For him truth is paramount. His initial encounter with Alexandra results in a death, and they make a bargain that involves a proper Zoroastrian burial. Ancient texts generally show a great respect for the religions and burial practices of others. I imagine that any warrior would like to think they’d be given the same respect if they were the one to die.
As a Hellenistic Greek, Alexandra of Sparta is a devotee of Artemis. She admires trickery and has no problem telling lies. In fact, lies or exaggeration help her reputation and help her maintain her rule of a mercenary army. The juxtaposition between my two main characters’ cultures was interesting to play with from a romantic and a political perspective. The more research I did, the more dialogue they exchanged, and the more intimate they became, the more real they became.

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

TLC Book Tours: After the Flood by Kassandra Montag

Title: After the Flood
Author: Kassandra Montag 
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: William Morrow
Publish Date: September 3, 2019
Source: TLC Book Tours and HarperCollins

What's the Story?:

From "A little more than a century from now, our world has been utterly transformed. After years of slowly overtaking the continent, rising floodwaters have obliterated America’s great coastal cities and then its heartland, leaving nothing but an archipelago of mountaintop colonies surrounded by a deep expanse of open water.

Stubbornly independent Myra and her precocious seven-year-old daughter, Pearl, fish from their small boat, the Bird, visiting dry land only to trade for supplies and information in the few remaining outposts of civilization. For seven years, Myra has grieved the loss of her oldest daughter, Row, who was stolen by her father after a monstrous deluge overtook their home in Nebraska. Then, in a violent confrontation with a stranger, Myra suddenly discovers that Row was last seen in a far-off encampment near the Arctic Circle. Throwing aside her usual caution, Myra and Pearl embark on a perilous voyage into the icy northern seas, hoping against hope that Row will still be there.

On their journey, Myra and Pearl join forces with a larger ship and Myra finds herself bonding with her fellow seekers who hope to build a safe haven together in this dangerous new world. But secrets, lust, and betrayals threaten their dream, and after their fortunes take a shocking—and bloody—turn, Myra can no longer ignore the question of whether saving Row is worth endangering Pearl and her fellow travelers."

My Two Cents:

In "After the Flood," the world has been devastated by an enormous flood that lasted for years and years. Now only the tops of the world's mountains are visible and livable and most of the remaining population of the world is relegated to living on boats or living on the small slivers of land that still exist. Myra is a mother on a mission. While her youngest daughter, Pearl, is right by her side, she is still affected by the loss of her eldest daughter, Ro, who was taken away from her by her husband in the chaos of the flood. Myra has learned how to carve out a living for her and Pearl through her wonderful fishing skills. This is a story of a mother's love for her children and her drive whenever she feels that they might be in danger.

The book is told through Myra's point of view. I thought this was a really smart choice. You get to know her innermost thoughts and why she is so driven to find Ro, even if it means searching the whole world for her. A mother's love knows no bounds! Myra must constantly rely on her cunning to get to where she thinks Ro might be. It means that she has to be deceptive and sometimes ruthless with those around her. I admired her drive all the way through! The secondary characters are really great. I loved Pearl, who must display such a high level of maturity and strength at such a young age. I also liked the comedic relief of her and her snakes! The crew of the ship that Myra and Pearl link up with was such a great addition as well!

I love dystopian fiction and really good dystopian fiction has really good world building, which I absolutely adore. I love wondering about what might be and what you would feel going through different situations. This book definitely allows you do it! The author includes so many little details that you can feel the sea breeze, you can see the ocean made rocky by the mountain tops piercing through, and you can understand the thoughts of the characters as they go through everything they go through in the book.

This is Kassandra Montag's debut novel and it is an exciting kickoff of what is hopefully to come for her! Supremely imaginative and well-detailed, this was a great ride!

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Reading Challenge Update!

As a reminder, I am aiming to read a book from or set in each country the Department of State recognizes, which is 195 countries!

I had a really good month in August! I'm noticing that I have a lot of harder countries on my list now and I think it may be getting harder to find books that fit the bill. It is amazing to me how difficult it is to find books for so many of these countries in translation. I'm also finding that children's and YA literature is often more diverse than adult literature.
I read books from this many countries in July:
You can check out my progress on my map or see a list of where and what I'm reading here.

I have read 72 books for this challenge so far.

Take a look at my list! What else should I be reading?

Monday, September 9, 2019

TLC Book Tours: The Third Daughter by Talia Carner

Title: The Third Daughter 
Author: Talia Carner
Format: Paperback
Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks
Publish Date: September 3, 2019
Source: TLC Book Tours

What's the Story?:

From "The turn of the 20th century finds fourteen-year-old Batya in the Russian countryside, fleeing   with her family endless pogroms. Desperate, her father leaps at the opportunity to marry Batya to a worldly, wealthy stranger who can guarantee his daughter an easy life and passage to America.

 Feeling like a princess in a fairytale, Batya leaves her old life behind as she is whisked away to a new world. But soon she discovers that she’s entered a waking nightmare. Her new “husband” does indeed bring her to America: Buenos Aires, a vibrant, growing city in which prostitution is not only legal but deeply embedded in the culture. And now Batya is one of thousands of women tricked and sold into the oldest profession in the world.

As the years pass, Batya forms deep bonds with her “sisters” in the brothel as well as some men who are both kind and cruel. Through it all, she holds onto one dream: to bring her family to America, where they will be safe from the anti-Semitism that plagues Russia. Just as Batya is becoming a known tango dancer,  she gets an unexpected but dangerous opportunity—to help bring down the criminal network that has enslaved so many young women and has been instrumental in developing Buenos Aires into   a major metropolis."

My Two Cents:

In "The Third Daughter," Batya's family is struggling. The Russian Czar is trying to boot all of Jews out of Russia. Batya's family has faced tragedy after tragedy and life is hard. When a stranger appears offering the promise of a new life in America for Batya, her family doesn't think twice about marrying her off in order for her to have a brighter future. Looks can be deceiving though and this stranger has no intention of bringing Batya to America but to South America to be sold into sexual slavery in Buenos Aires. This was a fascinating and wonderfully detailed story of resilience and strength about a time and place that I had very little familiarity with!

One of the things that I most love about historical fiction is the doors that it opens to events that I am not familiar with. In the late 1800s, there were thousands of Eastern European girls that were trafficked to Buenos Aires by Zwi Migdal, a union of pimps in Buenos Aires. The Union was basically allowed to do whatever it wanted with implicit permission of the Argentinian government, who often seemed all too willing to look the other way as the union systematically ruined these young women's lives and stole them away from home.

This book is filled with wonderful characters, including our main character, Batya. Batya is only 14 years old when she is taken away from her family. She is so very young and while trafficking is always a difficult subject to read about, I was particularly struck by it happening to someone so young. Batya is absolutely terrified when she is first separated from her family. She faces so many terrible situations on the way from Europe to Buenos Aires but her inner strength keeps her afloat and she does what she needs to do to survive and eventually get a happy ending.

The events in the book are pretty dark but I am so happy that there are books like this to shed light on some of the darker parts of our shared history. The detail in this book is great and really brings Batya's and so many girls like her stories to life. While the story itself is really great, make sure you read the Author's Note at the end where the author shares her inspiration for the story. Overall, this was a great book!

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