Friday, August 30, 2019

TLC Book Tours: Castle of Concrete by Katia Raina

Title: Castle of Concrete
Author: Katia Raina
Format: ARC
Publisher: Young Europe Books
Publish Date: June 11, 2019
Source: TLC Book Tours

What's the Story?:

From "In 1990-1991, when the history of Russia and the entire Soviet Union is being revisited and the rules are changing, a fifteen-year-old Jewish girl, Sonya Solovay, reunites with her dissident mother after twelve years of hiding out in Siberia--her life's dream realized. Still, she sees herself as a typical Soviet citizen: a shy, quiet, obedient, barely-there girl, dissolving into the past, her country's and her own. Determined to break into her new existence, Sonya tries out a shining new persona, but most of her efforts backfire. One mysterious boy notices her, wants to hear her stories, makes her feel like she is the shiniest part of his world. Everything else might as well fade away--her distant and hungry-for-gossip classmates, the equally shy Jewish friend who doesn't always seem to understand her, the growing tension with her fiercely Jewish Mama, the rumors of an impending communist coup. More and more, Sonya spends time with her "rescuer" at a construction site she calls "castle." So what if he uses an occasional anti-Semitic slur?

In the shadow of a crane, among metal pipes and concrete blocks, she finds it easy, falling, falling in love with a muddy-eyed boy she knows so little about. As for being Jewish in a country where the Republics are supposed to be "sisters" and the People brothers," what does one's nationality have to do with anything?

All the while, Sonya's mama is falling in love also: she is falling in love with shiny America, a land where where being different seems to be celebrated, and not everyone is so very Russian and snow-white. The place sounds amazing, but so far away. Will Sonya ever find her way there?"

My Two Cents:

"Castle of Concrete" is the story of a teenage girl named Sonya just as the Soviet Union is beginning to crack. While the country is rapidly changing, Sonya's life is rapidly changing as well. She is now living with her mother, who often feels like a stranger. She is trying to get used to living in a new city and to going to a new school. She's falling in love for the first time against the background of a volatile new world as Russia emerges from the Soviet time period.

I have read plenty of non-fiction about the end of the Soviet Union but I have not read much, if any fiction set during the end of the Soviet Union. It was fascinating to get a taste of how younger people might have saw the shift in the government at the time. The changes underline everything throughout the story.

Sonya is a great character that I loved following through this story. Although things are rapidly changing in her country and she is definitely aware of how it effects her. She has just recently become aware of her Jewish heritage and although her country is changing their views on things like religion, she is still acutely aware of the difficulty she faces in being able to openly embrace this identity. We also get to see Sonya as she falls in love for the first time. I loved how this book shows that some things about being a teenager are timeless, no matter what else is going on. 

The writing of the book is good. There are some really lovely turns of phrase throughout the book. I also loved how the author captured both our main character, Sonya, and the secondary characters as well!

Monday, August 26, 2019

A Chadwick Treasury: The Four Classic Stories of an Adventurous Blue Crab and His Chesapeake Bay Friends by Priscilla Cummings

Title: A Chadwick Treasury: The Four Classic Stories of an Adventurous Blue Crab and His Chesapeake Bay Friends
Author: Priscilla Cummings
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: Schiffer Publishing
Publish Date: June 2019 
Source: PR


What's the Story?:

From "The Chadwick Treasury begins with the original story of Chadwick the Crab, a little crab in the Chesapeake Bay who has big dreams of becoming a star at the National Aquarium in Baltimore. The adventures continue when Chadwick teams up with friends Bernie the Sea Gull, Toulouse the Canada Goose, and Baron Von Heron, among others, to tackle the problem of pollution in Chadwick and the Garplegrungen. Romance blossoms next. Chadwick asks his special friend, Esmerelda, to marry him. Chadwick's Wedding is a joyous event in Shady Creek. Finally, in Chadwick Forever, our beloved crabs celebrate the arrival of their new family just when other bay friends find themselves on the endangered species list. Chadwick hopes readers will enjoy the stories and will also be inspired to help keep the Chesapeake Bay a safe place to live."

My Two Cents:

"The Chadwick Treasury" is the story of a little blue crab that lives in the Chesapeake Bay in Maryland with a bunch of animal friends. All Chadwick wants is to make sure that everyone knows about the Chesapeake Bay and maybe even become a star to make sure everyone hears that message! With great illustrations and good stories, this was the perfect book to introduce my girls to what the Chesapeake Bay is and why it's so important to protect it.

As a Marylander, I love the Chesapeake Bay. It is such an amazing resource and a very important one as well. It contributes to a ton of business and leisure around the state. I love that this book can take a really important subject like the Chesapeake Bay and its preservation and put it at a level that young children can understand and enjoy. This book was such a great jumping off point for a lot of good conversations with my girls about what the Bay is, who lives in the Bay, and what we can do to help them!


Monday, August 19, 2019

HFVBT Cover Reveal: Dreamland

Dreamland by Nancy Bilyeau

Publication Date: January 16, 2020
Endeavor Quill
Genre: Historical Fiction The year is 1911 when twenty-year-old heiress Peggy Batternberg is invited to spend the summer in America’s Playground. But the invitation to Coney Island is unwelcome. Despite hailing from one of America’s richest families, Peggy would much rather spend the summer at the Moonrise Bookstore where she works voluntarily, than keeping up appearances with Brooklyn socialites and her snobbish, controlling family. But soon it transpires that the hedonism of Coney Island affords Peggy more of the freedom she has been longing for. For one, she finds herself in love with a troubled pier-side artist of humble means, whom the Batternberg patriarchs would surely disapprove of. Disapprove they may, but hidden behind their pomposity lurks a web of deceit, betrayal and deadly secrets. And as bodies begin to mount up amidst the sweltering clamour of Coney Island, it seems the powerful Batternbergs can get away with anything…even murder.s It is up to Peggy to overcome the oppression of her family and clear the name of her vulnerable lover, before she or her beloved sister become the next victims of Dreamland. Extravagant, intoxicating and thumping with suspense, bestselling Nancy Bilyeau’s magnificent Dreamland is a story of corruption, class and dangerous obsession.

About the Author

"Dreamland" is Nancy Bilyeau's fifth novel of historical suspense. She is the author of the best-selling historical thriller “The Blue” and the Tudor mystery series “The Crown,” “The Chalice,” and “The Tapestry,” on sale in nine countries. Nancy is a magazine editor who has lived in the United States and Canada. She studied History and English Literature at the University of Michigan. After moving to New York City, she worked on the staffs of “InStyle,” “Good Housekeeping,” and “Rolling Stone.” She is currently the deputy editor of the Center on Media, Crime and Justice at the Research Foundation of CUNY and a regular contributing writer to “Town & Country" and "Mystery Scene Magazine." Nancy’s mind is always in past centuries but she currently lives with her husband and two children in Forest Hills in the borough of Queens. "Dreamland" is her first novel set in her adopted hometown of New York City.

Website | Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads | BookBub

Cover Reveal Schedule

Monday, August 19 A Bookish Affair Gwendalyn's Books What Is That Book About Tuesday, August 20 Clarissa Reads it All Just One More Chapter Books In Their Natural Habitat Wednesday, August 21 Unabridged Chick Donna's Book Blog Let Them Read Books Thursday, August 22 A Book Geek The Lit Bitch Tar Heel Reader Kris Waldherr Art & Words Friday, August 23 I'm All About Books Lost_in_a_book_reviewer Historical Fiction with Spirit Saturday, August 24 Broken Teepee Passages to the Past Locks, Hooks and Books Sunday, August 25 A Darn Good Read Orange County Readers So Many Books, So Little Time Monday, August 26 Coffee and Ink Jessica Belmont Maiden of the Pages

Monday, August 12, 2019

Review: Song of a Captive Bird by Jasmin Darznik

Title: Song of a Captive Bird
Author: Jasmin Darznik
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: Ballantine Books
Publish Date: February 13, 2018
Source: Library

What's the Story?:

From "All through her childhood in Tehran, Forugh is told that Iranian daughters should be quiet and modest. She is taught only to obey, but she always finds ways to rebel—gossiping with her sister among the fragrant roses of her mother’s walled garden, venturing to the forbidden rooftop to roughhouse with her three brothers, writing poems to impress her strict, disapproving father, and sneaking out to flirt with a teenage paramour over cafĂ© glacĂ©. It’s during the summer of 1950 that Forugh’s passion for poetry really takes flight—and that tradition seeks to clip her wings.

Forced into a suffocating marriage, Forugh runs away and falls into an affair that fuels her desire to write and to achieve freedom and independence. Forugh’s poems are considered both scandalous and brilliant; she is heralded by some as a national treasure, vilified by others as a demon influenced by the West. She perseveres, finding love with a notorious filmmaker and living by her own rules—at enormous cost. But the power of her writing grows only stronger amid the upheaval of the Iranian revolution."

My Two Cents:

In "Song of a Captive Bird," Forugh is expected to fit into the mold of the ideal Iranian woman in the middle of the 20th century. She is expected to follow her parents' orders and do as she is told but she has a spirit that cannot be contained. She has a poet's heart and she wants to write. She wants to be able to call the shots on her own life. This is a phenomenal story that gives you a front row seat to a really fascinating woman.

I love stories about strong women and Forugh is most definitely a strong woman with a mind of her own. I loved how this story captured how when you want to write, you will do anything to be able to write. She is so driven to write her poetry that she forgoes a lot of the traditional trappings of what a woman is supposed to be in Iran in the 1950s and 1960s. She leaves a marriage. She leaves a child behind. She sets Tehran on fire with rumors of her long list of lovers. She writes what's on her heart for all to see! She was such a great character and I can't believe I had never heard of her before.

As many of you know, I'm trying to tackle books from every country this year. This is my pick for Iran and I was so happy to be able to find a fiction book set during a time in Iran's history that I didn't know much about. I feel like I've read a lot about the revolution and the time after so it was interesting to see just how quickly the country was changing, particularly through the eyes of Forugh. I loved all of the historical description. The description of the newspaper was particularly interesting!

The writing in this book was so good! I really enjoyed the first person point of view in the book. I loved being able to step into Forugh's shoes and see what she saw. This was a fantastic book! 


Tuesday, August 6, 2019

HFVBT Review: The Undertaker's Assistant by Amanda Skenandore

Title: The Undertaker's Assistant 
Author: Amanda Skenandore
Format: ARC
Publisher: Kensington
Publish Date: July 30, 2019
Source: HFVBT

What's the Story?:

From ""The dead can't hurt you. Only the living can." Effie Jones, a former slave who escaped to the Union side as a child, knows the truth of her words. Taken in by an army surgeon and his wife during the War, she learned to read and write, to tolerate the sight of blood and broken bodies--and to forget what is too painful to bear. Now a young freedwoman, she has returned south to New Orleans and earns her living as an embalmer, her steady hand and skillful incisions compensating for her white employer's shortcomings.

Tall and serious, Effie keeps her distance from the other girls in her boarding house, holding tight to the satisfaction she finds in her work. But despite her reticence, two encounters--with a charismatic state legislator named Samson Greene, and a beautiful young Creole, Adeline--introduce her to new worlds of protests and activism, of soirees and social ambition. Effie decides to seek out the past she has blocked from her memory and try to trace her kin. As her hopes are tested by betrayal, and New Orleans grapples with violence and growing racial turmoil, Effie faces loss and heartache, but also a chance to finally find her place . . .

My Two Cents:

"The Undertaker's Assistant" is a fantastic historical fiction set just after the Civil War. Our main character is tough-as-nails Effie, a freedwoman, who was the assistant to a surgeon during the Civil War - almost unheard of for a woman and particularly unheard of for a black woman. Effie has very few memories from her childhood and seems to be doing everything to avoid dwelling on the past. She goes to New Orleans to make a living as an undertaker's assistant, it is definitely not a job for everyone but Effie seems to be more comfortable with the dead than the living oftentimes.

I loved Effie's character. She is tough and smart and has always done what she has needed to do to survive. She relies on herself as much as she can but she seems to be constantly running from the past and the bad memories that seem to crop up if she stays still for too long. At first, she seems quite cold and strange - what young lady would want to work with dead people? As the book unfolds, we see that there is much more there than meets the eye. We see her grow and bloom throughout the book and I loved following her.

New Orleans is one of those cities that had to grow on me. It took me three visits before I fell in love with it. It makes for such a good setting for this book. New Orleans has almost a mystical and sometimes macabre feeling to it. It is the perfect backdrop for Effie's story and her dealings with the dead. Add to it all of the things that were going on after the Civil War as people grappled with what the outcome meant for them and the lives they wanted to build.

The historical detail in this book is so good. Not for the tender-hearted but the descriptions of preparing the dead was fascinating. Effie pulls us into her world with nary a blink. I actually haven't read a lot of books set during Reconstruction so it was so interested to read how people were grappling with this brand new world. Overall, this was a great read and I am excited to see what the author writes in the future!

Monday, August 5, 2019

Review: Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese

Title: Cutting for Stone
Author: Abraham Verghese 
Format: Paperback
Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf
Publish Date: February 2009
Source: Owned

What's the Story?:

From "Marion and Shiva Stone are twin brothers born of a secret union between a beautiful Indian nun and a brash British surgeon at a mission hospital in Addis Ababa. Orphaned by their mother’s death in childbirth and their father’s disappearance, bound together by a preternatural connection and a shared fascination with medicine, the twins come of age as Ethiopia hovers on the brink of revolution. Yet it will be love, not politics—their passion for the same woman—that will tear them apart and force Marion, fresh out of medical school, to flee his homeland. He makes his way to America, finding refuge in his work as an intern at an underfunded, overcrowded New York City hospital. When the past catches up to him—nearly destroying him—Marion must entrust his life to the two men he thought he trusted least in the world: the surgeon father who abandoned him and the brother who betrayed him."

My Two Cents:

"Cutting for Stone" is one of those books where I can't believe it took me so long to get to it! My Reading Challenge for this year (trying to read a book set in every country) luckily pushed me to get this book off my TBR and on to my read list. In Ethiopia, twins Marlon and Shiva are born out of a secret love affair and adopted by a couple of Indian doctors. We see them grow up throughout the book and begin to get curious about their origins and how that story has shaped the rest of their life.

Especially since having my own twins, I am fascinated by twin stories. It is so interesting to see how connected the twins are to each other even when a betrayal between the brothers literally forces continents between them. The relationship really rang true to me. When the twins try to extricate themselves from each other, they are still pulled towards each other in ways that they never expected. 

The characters in the book are so good and so memorable. The twins were definitely my favorite but I love how the author makes the secondary characters stand apart as well. Each of the secondary characters play such a key role in the lives of the twins and I like how they become a major part of the story themselves. 

This book is set in Ethiopia at a volatile time in the country's history where the country is rapidly changing. This book was a great introduction to the country for me. I really enjoyed seeing the country through this fictional story. The detail was really good and I loved how vivid the setting was!

Friday, August 2, 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 feel like I was able to get back into my groove a little bit more this month! I'm having a lot of trouble finding books for any island country and any of the former Soviet countries so if you have suggestions for those ones, I am all ears!
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 63 books for this challenge so far.

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