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Monday, September 30, 2013

HF Tours Review: The Shogun's Daughter by Laura Joh Rowland

Title: The Shogun's Daughter
Author: Laura Joh Rowland
Format: Ebook
Publisher: Minotaur Books
Publish Date: September 17, 2013
Source: HF Virtual Book Tours






Why You're Reading This Book:

  • You're a historical fiction fan.
  • You like mysteries.
  • You like exotic settings.
 What's the Story?:

From Goodreads.com: "Japan, 1704.  In an elegant mansion a young woman named Tsuruhime lies on her deathbed, attended by her nurse.  Smallpox pustules cover her face.  Incense burns, to banish the evil spirits of disease. After Tsuruhime takes her last breath, the old woman watching from the doorway says, “Who’s going to tell the Shogun his daughter is dead?”

The death of the Shogun's daughter has immediate consequences on his regime. There will be no grandchild to leave the kingdom. Faced with his own mortality and beset by troubles caused by the recent earthquake, he names as his heir Yoshisato, the seventeen-year-old son he only recently discovered was his. Until five months ago, Yoshisato was raised as the illegitimate son of Yanagisawa, the shogun's favorite advisor. Yanagisawa is also the longtime enemy of Sano Ichiro.

Sano doubts that Yoshisato is really the Shogun's son, believing it's more likely a power-play by Yanagisawa. When Sano learns that Tsuruhime's death may have been a murder, he sets off on a dangerous investigation that leads to more death and destruction as he struggles to keep his pregnant wife, Reiko, and his son safe. Instead, he and his family become the accused. And this time, they may not survive the day."


My Two Cents: 


"The Shogun's Daughter" is a historical mystery that centers around a potential murder in early 1700s Japan. When the story opens, Tsuruhime, the Shogun's Daughter, is on her deathbed with a horrible case of smallpox. Her ultimate death starts a investigation into what happened and it's quickly discovered that due to some of the political forces at play, her death may not have been all that natural. It's up to Sano Ichiro to investigate what happened, which may put his own family at risk. It's an interesting tale with an exotic setting.

This book is the 17th (seriously!) book in the Sano Ichiro series. I have not read any of these books. While "The Shogun's Daughter" is a standalone book, I could not help but to feel that I was missing some of the back story of some of the main characters, namely Sano. I feel like I had a lot of questions about his background and while some detail comes out in flashbacks within the story, I found myself wanting more.

The story itself was interesting. I don't read a lot of historical mysteries but this one made me wonder why I don't read more. Even though this book is quite long, it's a page turner and makes the time go by quickly. I really enjoyed putting together all of the pieces of the puzzle with Sano. There is also a really interesting story line about the trouble his own family is in because of his investigation, which I enjoyed.

The setting in this book was probably my favorite. You all know that I love exotic settings and this setting was truly special. 1700s Japan isn't a place that I have visited too much in my reading so this book was truly a treat in that regard.

Overall, I enjoyed this book for its fast pace and awesome setting.


Follow the Rest of the Tour:

Monday, September 16
Review at Oh, for the Hook of a Book!
Tuesday, September 17
Review at Let Them Read Books
Wednesday, September 18
Guest Post at The True Book Addict
Guest Post & Giveaway at Let Them Read Books
Thursday, September 19
Review at Flashlight Commentary
Friday, September 20
Review at The True Book Addict
Interview at Flashlight Commentary
Monday, September 23
Review at Sharon’s Garden of Book Reviews
Tuesday, September 24
Review at Ageless Pages Reviews
Wednesday, September 25
Review at Impressions in Ink
Interview at Oh, for the Hook of a Book!
Thursday, September 26
Review & Giveaway at Unabridged Chick
Friday, September 27
Review at Jenny Loves to Read
Monday, September 30
Review at A Bookish Affair
Interview at Unabridged Chick
Tuesday, October 1
Guest Post & Giveaway at A Bookish Affair
Wednesday, October 2
Review at The Maiden’s Court
Review at Just One More Chapter
Thursday, October 3
Review at WTF Are You Reading?
Review & Giveaway at Broken Teepee
Friday, October 4
Review at Book Dilettante

Post Tour

Monday, October 7
Review & Interview at A Bookish Libraria
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Friday, September 27, 2013

Review: In Honor by Jessi Kirby

Title:  In Honor
Author: Jessi Kirby
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: Simon and Schuster
Publish Date: May 8, 2012
Source: Library






Why You're Reading This Book:

  • You're a YA fiction fan.
  • You don't mind tough subjects.
What's the Story?:

From Goodreads.com: "Honor receives her brother’s last letter from Iraq three days after learning that he died, and opens it the day his fellow Marines lay the flag over his casket. Its contents are a complete shock: concert tickets to see Kyra Kelly, her favorite pop star and Finn’s celebrity crush. In his letter, he jokingly charged Honor with the task of telling Kyra Kelly that he was in love with her.

Grief-stricken and determined to grant Finn’s last request, she rushes to leave immediately. But she only gets as far as the driveway before running into Rusty, Finn’s best friend since third grade and his polar opposite. She hasn’t seen him in ages, thanks to a falling out between the two guys, but Rusty is much the same as Honor remembers him: arrogant, stubborn . . . and ruggedly good-looking. Neither one is what the other would ever look for in a road trip partner, but the two of them set off together, on a voyage that makes sense only because it doesn’t. Along the way, they find small and sometimes surprising ways to ease their shared loss and honor Finn--but when shocking truths are revealed at the end of the road, will either of them be able to cope with the consequences?"


My Two Cents:

Oh, I absolutely love road trip stories. Happy or sad, they make me yearn for the long, hot summer days and driving with the windows down and the wind blowing through my hair. "In Honor" is the story of a road trip that Honor and her brother's best friend, Rusty, take in order to honor Honor's brother's memory as he has passed away in the Iraq War. This is definitely serious subject matter and falls in the sad but eventually uplifting category. Kirby is a really good writer and knows just how to move you and how to elicit the strongest emotions in you.

This is one of the first if not the only Young Adult fiction book that I've come across that tackles some of the issues coming out of our country's most recent wars. There are so many people that have been affected by the Iraq and Afghanistan wars and there haven't been that many fiction books at all that tackle these subjects. Honor's brother, Finn, seems like a really great brother. You can tell that he had a very special relationship with Honor, which makes his loss so much harder than her. This is also very much a book about coping and dealing with loss, another very difficult subject.

This was the first book that I had ever read by Kirby but I know that I absolutely will be reading more by her in the future. I had heard really good things about this book and Kirby's first book, Moonglass. Honor really feels real. I think that the romance in the book could have been a big cliche but through Kirby's writing, the romance becomes something different and way more realistic.

Bottom line: This is a good book for when you're looking for a serious YA book with good writing!


  

Thursday, September 26, 2013

TLC Book Tours: I am Venus by Bárbara Mujica

Title: I am Venus
Author: Bárbara Mujica
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: Overlook
Publish Date: June 13, 2013
Source: TLC Book Tours





What's the Story?:

From Goodreads.com: "The year is 1619, and Diego Velázquez is a rising star at an art academy in Seville run by his father-in-law. But even as his young wife builds him a family, the painter yearns for a larger canvas, and soon his ambition lands him at the court of King Philip IV, where he quickly gains prominence, just as Spain is plunged into military defeat and domestic chaos.
 

But as he gains nobility and privilege, Velázquez encounters the sinful decadence that defines the regime. At the heart of this most conservative country, its ruling class breaks every rule that the masses must obey. As he finds himself torn between loyalty to family and the easy seductions of power, Velázquez decides to take on his riskiest painting yet, which could, in a stroke, land him in the claws of the Inquisition.
 

A sweeping story of scandal and passion, and a vivid recreation of a corrupt kingdom on the brink of collapse, I Am Venus is a thrilling novel that brings to life the public and private worlds of Spain’s greatest painter."

My Two Cents:

"I am Venus" is the story of famous Spanish artist, Diego Velazquez. Velazquez was ahead of his time in many ways. Some of his art was considered quite scandalous in his day. You all know that I love historical fiction but I absolutely adore historical fiction that has something to do with historical figures I really like and/or art. This book has both.

This book was a really interesting glimpse of the life of the artist with a focus on the women he knew. I didn't know much about Velazquez's life before reading this book but I really enjoyed a lot of his paintings. He was so talented! The book focuses a lot on his wife. Parts of the book are narrated by the woman who posed for one of his most famous paintings. We get a really interesting view of the artist since he is sort of kept at arm's length through this book.

The narration of the book was interesting to me. I wanted to know more about the model. Her first narration really brought me into the story but I wanted more of her throughout the book.

Overall, this was a really interesting tale. I loved, loved, loved the setting and the interplay between Velazquez and the royalty in the book.


 

 



Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Review: Ask The Passengers by A.S. King

Title: Ask The Passengers
Author: A.S. King
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: Little, Brown
Publish Date: October 23, 2012
Source: Library


Why You're Reading This Book:
  • You're a YA fiction fan!
  • You don't mind tough subjects.
What's the Story?:

From Goodreads.com: "Astrid Jones desperately wants to confide in someone, but her mother's pushiness and her father's lack of interest tell her they're the last people she can trust. Instead, Astrid spends hours lying on the backyard picnic table watching airplanes fly overhead. She doesn't know the passengers inside, but they're the only people who won't judge her when she asks them her most personal questions . . . like what it means that she's falling in love with a girl.

As her secret relationship becomes more intense and her friends demand answers, Astrid has nowhere left to turn. She can't share the truth with anyone except the people at thirty thousand feet, and they don't even know she's there. But little does Astrid know just how much even the tiniest connection will affect these strangers' lives--and her own--for the better.

In this truly original portrayal of a girl struggling to break free of society's definitions, Printz Honor author A.S. King asks readers to question everything--and offers hope to those who will never stop seeking real love."


My Two Cents:

Astrid is hiding a secret from the people in her small town since she is so scared about how they will take her news. The only ones that she can tell about what's going on with her and how she has fallen in love with another girl is the passengers in the plane above her small Pennsylvania town. This book is full of hard topics and I wanted to hug Astrid throughout the book because no one should have to feel ashamed of who they are and who they love.

Yeah, this is a topic that has been done before but this is definitely a worthy story. One thing that makes this book stand out from the crowd is the usage of magical realism. If any of you have read my blog for any length of time, you may have picked up that I really, really like magical realism. The use of this element in the book really made the story seem a little fresher and a little bit more interesting.

I did find myself wanting to know a little bit more about the characters and their motivations. This book was definitely action and story arc driven and I definitely felt like I wanted to know a little bit more about why people were doing the things that they were doing in the book.

Overall though, I thought that the story was a good one. I definitely think this book is worth a read. It covers a very important topic and does so with a twist.


  

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Review: How to Eat a Cupcake by Meg Donohue

Title: How to Eat a Cupcake
Author: Meg Donohue
Format: Ebook
Publisher: William Morrow
Publish Date: March 13, 2012
Source: Owned





Why You're Reading This Book:

  • You're a fiction fan.
 What's the Story?:

From Goodreads.com: "Funny, free-spirited Annie Quintana and sophisticated, ambitious Julia St. Clair come from two different worlds. Yet, as the daughter of the St. Clair’s housekeeper, Annie grew up in Julia’s San Francisco mansion and they forged a bond that only two little girls who know nothing of class differences and scholarships could—until a life-altering betrayal destroyed their friendship.

A decade later, Annie is now a talented, if underpaid, pastry chef who bakes to fill the void left in her heart by her mother’s death. Julia, a successful businesswoman, is tormented by a painful secret that could jeopardize her engagement to the man she loves. When a chance reunion prompts the unlikely duo to open a cupcakery, they must overcome past hurts and a mysterious saboteur or risk losing their fledgling business and any chance of healing their fractured friendship."


My Two Cents:

Mmmm, cupcakes! Mmmm, books about cupcakes. I love foodie fiction and I was very excited to read this book because 1. it's about cupcakes and 2. I had heard some good things about this book from some other book bloggers (and we all know that book bloggers are awesome so there's that). This is also a story about a redeemed friendship.

I really liked both of the main characters in the book. Annie seems like a person that I would really like to be friends with. She seems like a lot of fun. Julia doesn't start out looking so great but ends up with a redemption that is really fantastic. They grew up best friends. Annie's beloved mother worked for Julia's family but Annie and Julia were more family than anything else until something happens between them during high school. The book is told from the alternating perspectives of Annie and Julia, which I thought was a particularly good strategy for this book. I liked seeing both sides of the story as you get a chance to understand everything that happened a little bit more.

This book also has a couple little mysteries within it that really added to the overall storyline. There were some pretty good twists and turns in the book that I really liked following.

This book moves very quickly and sometimes I wish that it had slowed down a little bit with more detail added but overall, it's pretty good. 


  

Monday, September 23, 2013

Review: The Mole People by Jennifer Toth

Title: The Mole People: Life in the Tunnels Beneath New York City
Author: Jennifer Toth
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: Chicago Review Press
Publish Date: October 1, 1993
Source: Library






Why You're Reading This Book:

  • You're a non-fiction fan.
  • You don't mind tough subjects.
What's the Story?:

From Goodreads.com: "Thousands of people live in the subway, railroad, and sewage tunnels that form the bowels of New York City. This book is about them, the so-called mole people, living alone and in communities, in subway tunnels and below subway platforms. It is about how and why people move underground, who they are, and what they have to say about their lives and the "topside” world they’ve left behind.

My Two Cents:

"The Mole People" is a fascinating book about the people who live in the tunnels of New York City. Who knew that there was so much under the city? Ms. Toth follows various people who live in the tunnels to see what their life is like.

This book is mainly made up of Toth's various observations. She doesn't really seem to fully integrate herself into the tunnel community (which may have made for a more compelling story) but she does at least develop a modicum of trust with several members of some of the sub-groups of the tunnel dwellers. This is still very much an outsider's account of this group of people. Toth also focuses a lot on her feelings about what's going on and at some points, I thought it would have been interesting for her to go a little more in depth and make greater connections and "take away points" (for lack of a better term) about these people. The observations are certainly interesting and definitely kept me reading though.

The organization of the book is also a little interesting. There are a lot of times when Toth refers to something, doesn't expand on the idea, and then says that she will be talking about later in the book but sometimes it's much later and therefore it becomes a little bit distracting because then you're thinking about what she could possibly be talking about a couple chapters later.

The subject matter really carries the book and although I had some issues with the organization and the way it was written, the subject matter is absolutely fascinating. It definitely whet my appetite to read more on this subject in the future.

This book is approximately 20 years old and I found myself wondering if there are still people that live in the tunnels of NYC. My guess is that there are just because if it is accessible, I would think that people still live there.


  

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Odds and Ends!: Alaska, Goodreads, and Marie Curie

Hope you're enjoying the last bit of your weekend! As you're reading this, I'm flying off on a vacation to Alaska to sight-see and to visit some very dear friends. It's my first vacation in awhile and I am so excited!!! We'll be going to Anchorage, Denali National Park, Fairbanks, and Seward. Right now the temperatures are in the 20s and 30s (brrr!!!) but seem to be fluctuating a lot. I'm hoping that it doesn't get too, too cold so we can truly enjoy the great outdoors.

Admittedly, I'm also looking forward to all of the reading I will get to do. My Kindle is loaded up and ready to go. I also have this weird thing where I must have a physical book to read during take-offs and landings since my Kindle has to be in the off position. I have a grave fear of not being able to read at any point in time on a plane. Does anyone else worry about this???


Other News:

So Goodreads re-vamped some of their user guidelines and I'm a little disturbed about some of them. Basically what it boils down to is that if you have shelves on Goodreads that Goodreads sees as being more about author conduct that the book itself. This means no more warning other readers about authors behaving badly either through reviews or through things like the way that you name your shelves. Oh boy, this really seems like it could lead to Goodreads being a little over-zealous in what gets flagged.

One thing you should know about me is that I fully support freedom of speech. Popular and unpopular opinions both have their place. Censoring is just not cool and I definitely see this review policy as a form of censure. Now I do see why Goodreads would put a policy in place like this (I'm just not sure that these are the right reasons). Let's say that a reviewer for whatever reason just feels like being a troll so they start rating an author's books really badly and writing all of these terrible things. This is so wrong and it could be really hurtful to the author. I get why Goodreads would want to stop bad reviews that are written for reasons not based on the content of the book.

As members of the book community, I think reviewers and authors need to be respectful of each other. With all of the reviews that I write, I try really hard to be diplomatic even when I don't care for the book. That doesn't mean that I sugarcoat things or lie about it but it does mean that I try to point out exactly I didn't like about the book in a respectful way. I know there are definitely some people who do not do that on Goodreads.

Goodreads has tried to clarify the policy saying that you are still allowed to discuss authors in your book reviews but that they still will delete reviews that only focus on author behavior.

I guess we'll see how this plays out!

What do you think about the new policy?

Books!:


Marie Curie and Her Daughters is out in paperback now!

Movie Review: Brainwave



What's the Story:

Pairing actors, musicians, comedians, composers, filmmakers, choreographers, artists, and authors with leading neuroscientists in discussions of the human mind, the engaging documentary, BRAINWAVE makes its DVD debut from Athena on Sept. 17, 2013. Never before broadcast, the program features wide ranging discussions on the topic of happiness, anger, fear, and dreams with participants including  superstar chef Mario Batali, author R.L. Stine (Goosebumps series), Oscar® nominee Debra Winger, comedian Lewis Black, and influential punk rocker Henry Rollins.

My Two Cents:

I really wanted to watch this documentary because I was intrigued by the match up between the arts (your actors, musicians, comedians) and the neuroscientists. It's not a normal pairing but I definitely thought that it would be interesting and I was definitely right! Human emotions and the human mind are endlessly fascinating to me. This documentary is so interesting! 

Each episode covers a different subject and features different people. For all of my fellow book lovers, many of the episodes feature various books that the people speaking had written. There were so many awesome books. Let me just tell you that my TBR definitely grew a little more as I watched all of these episodes. My favorite episode starred Lewis Black, the comedian, who I find absolutely hilarious. He was talking to a doctor who specializes in anger management, which if you are familiar with Lewis Black's comedy, that is an incredibly funny pairing right there. 

The downside to this documentary is that it was a filmed lecture so some of the camera work was not great. There were really weird places where the people were discussing Powerpoint presentations on a big screen but the camera was focused on the people instead of the screen. This was a little bit annoying  because I couldn't really follow the conversation.

Overall, this is a great documentary!

 
 

 

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Review: Dream Plants for the Natural Garden by Piet Oudolf and Henk Gerritsen

Title: Dream Plants for the Natural Garden
Authors: Piet Oudolf and Henk Gerritsen
Format: Paperback
Publisher: Frances Lincoln
Publish Date: December 1, 2013
Source: I received a copy from the publisher; however, this didn't affect my review.






Why You're Reading This Book:

  • You're a non-fiction fan.
  • You love gardening!
What's the Story?:

From Goodreads.com: "In this book, pioneering garden designers Henk Gerritsen and Piet Oudolf describe their special choice of ideal plants, perennials, bulbs, grasses, ferns and small shrubs. An ideal plant is one that is both beautiful and robust, performing reliably with very little input from the gardener. Complete growing information is provided for each plant along with advice on how to use it to best effect. Gerritsen and Oudolf have a genuinely innovative approach to gardening. Rather than striving for big, bold masses of colorful blooms that are vigorously pruned back as soon as they have finished flowering, the authors choose plants chiefly for their form - leaves, flower heads and stems included - which means they retain their natural beauty through all the seasons."

My Two Cents:

Do you want to treat the special gardener in your life to something special? If you're looking for a great gift book, this book would be absolutely perfect. This book is full of great information about all sorts of plants. There's information about various plants and ideas on how to mix the plants to create something really gorgeous.

This summer was the first summer that I could have a garden since I finally have space to go wild with plants! I had a lot of fun gardening this spring and summer but I was kind of doing things haphazardly (i.e. going to the garden center and just picking pretty things). I think this book is going to be an excellent resource for me in the future. This book took me a long time to get through as I was taking notes while I was reading about what I want to plant next year!

This would be a great resource for both beginner and experienced gardeners who are looking for a fantastic resource!


 

Review: The Big Crowd by Kevin Baker

Title: The Big Crowd
Author: Kevin Baker
Format: ARC
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publish Date: September 17, 2013
Source: I received a copy from the publisher; however, this did not affect my review.






Why You're Reading This Book:

  • You're a historical fiction fan.
  • You like great settings.
What's the Story?:

From Goodreads.com: "Based on one of the great unsolved murders in mob history, and the rise-and-fall of a real-life hero, The Big Crowd tells the sweeping story of Charlie O’Kane. He is the American dream come to life, a poor Irish immigrant who worked his way up from beat cop to mayor of New York at the city’s dazzling, post-war zenith. Famous, powerful, and married to a glamorous fashion model, he is looked up to by millions, including his younger brother, Tom. So when Charlie is accused of abetting a shocking mob murder, Tom sets out to clear his brother’s name while hiding a secret of his own.

The charges against Charlie stem from his days as a crusading Brooklyn DA, when he sent the notorious killers of Murder, Inc., to the chair—only to let a vital witness go flying out a window while under police guard. Now, out of office, Charlie lives in a shoddy, Mexico City tourist hotel, eaten up with regrets and afraid he will be indicted for murder if he returns to the U.S. To uncover what really happened, Tom must confront stunning truths about his brother, himself, and the secret workings of the great city he loves.

Moving from the Brooklyn waterfront to city hall, from the battlefields of World War II to the beaches of Acapulco, to the glamorous nightclubs of postwar New York, The Big Crowd is filled with historical powerbrokers and gangsters, celebrities and socialites, scheming cardinals and battling, dockside priests. But ultimately it is a brilliantly imagined, distinctly American story of the bonds and betrayals of brotherhood."


My Two Cents:

"The Big Crowd" is a story of crime and family. This big, sweeping novel takes place in New York City and Mexico. Based on the story of infamous New York City mayor, William O'Dwyer, who was the 100th mayor of NYC in the middle of the 20th century. O'Dwyer became involved in some unsavory activities (read: all sorts of mob activity) and was forced to resign. This book follows a fictional version of O'Dwyer, an Irish immigrant named Charlie and his brother, Tom. Historical fiction lovers will enjoy this book, which gives a really interesting picture of the politics of one of America's great cities during the mid-20th century.

I really enjoyed this book for the settings. New York City is always going to be one of my favorite places in the world. I really thought the author did a great job of capturing the essence of the city. I also really liked the parts that took place in Mexico. In college, I actually studied abroad in Cuernavaca, which makes an appearance in the book. Charlie becomes the U.S. ambassador to Mexico and seems to be very well known and well loved by the people of Mexico. I also thought the depictions of Mexico City were absolutely fascinating as well.

In this book, Tom is trying to put together the story of what happened to his super successful brother. Although the events in the book were fodder for the greater world, there is still an element surrounding the deep relationship between siblings. There is also the added conflict that Tom is having an affair with Charlie's wife. I really liked this story. There were some parts that I thought could have been slimmed down but overall, this book held my attention.

What I say next didn't affect my view of the book but I did find myself wondering why the author chose to make up characters rather than using William O'Dwyer as an actual character in the book. It was really interesting to me.

Overall, I enjoyed this book.


 

Friday, September 20, 2013

Guest Post: Elizabeth Eckhart on F. Scott Fitzgerald

In celebration of F. Scott Fitzgerald's birthday occurring next week, I am happy to have blogger, Elizabeth Eckhart, here to talk a little bit about his life. Fitzgerald is one of my favorites. I love the 1920s and I love how his books bring the Jazz Age to life. He also has some Maryland connections, which is pretty cool as well. He's actually buried in the town just south of where I live. Here's Elizabeth!


Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald, named after his distant cousin Francis Scott Key, was one of the great American authors of the 1920s. He is most notably remembered for The Great Gatsby, though all his novels and short stories epitomize the time and the term he coined for the era: the chaotic Jazz Age.

Fitzgerald’s stories often centered on the lives of the wealthy nouveaux rich of the time. Not coincidentally, this was a group to which he himself belonged. Besides his reflections on the world of the newly wealthy and famous youth, Fitzgerald often drew his focus to more depressing themes, such as the loss of youth, the despair of aging, alcoholism, and the ambitious failings of those in his class
.
If Fitzgerald’s themes appear to be less than idyllic, chances are it was because the author based most of his work on his own life. FItzgerald himself struggled with alcoholism, the many whims and psychological illnesses of his wife, and his own inability to remain out of debt. Then again, without the motivations he had, chances are his work would not remain as important and compelling as it is widely considered to be today.

Fitzgerald’s first novel This Side of Paradise (1920)  was initially turned down by publishers. At the time, Fitzgerald was attending Princeton but he soon dropped out and began work as an advertiser. Like many other young, financially blessed men, Fitzgerald desired the hand of Zelda Sayre, the uncontested queen of Southern high society. Zelda showed little interest in committing to Fitzgerald and dropping her many other suitors for his meager advertiser's wage. This Side of Paradise accurately reflects Fitzgerald’s frustration; the novel follows the life of a young Princeton student navigating the social climbers and greed that surrounds him. After the book was published, and Fitzgerald became an immediate success, Zelda finally agreed to move to New York and and marry him. The Fitzgeralds became celebrities, resulting in Zelda’s unparalleled influence on the “flapper style” of the age. The newlyweds soon moved to Paris, where Fitzgerald befriended Ernest Hemingway, a man who grew to become a fierce friend, and an even fiercer competitor.

Unfortunately, the Fitzgeralds’ happiness was short-lived. Fitzgerald’s infatuation with Zelda, who like Daisy for Jay Gatsby, represented all that was untouched by the horrors of poverty and lower class, and remained unshaken - but Zelda’s monetary needs were great, and Fitzgerald had been an alcoholic since his brief time at Princeton. Together, they were jealous, resentful, and unable to manage their finances, forcing Fitzgerald to write numerous short stories for magazines in order to supplement their income. Hemingway, who considered Fitzgerald a great talent, often shamed his friend for bowing to the world of magazines in order to preserve a lifestyle for Zelda, whom Hemingway strongly disliked. At the time, Hemingway’s hatred for magazines roughly correlated to the idea of great talent “selling out” for Hollywood today. Fitzgerald’s short stories were created primarily for entertainment purposes, barely scraping the surface of the themes his novels spent hundreds of pages exploring. Of course, there were a few exceptions, such as The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (1922).

Fitzgerald was shameless regarding his use of his tumultuous marriage as material for his novels and shorts. In fact, he even stole snippets from Zelda’s diary, which he then credited to fictional heroines. The Beautiful and the Damned (1922) was a story entirely about the lives of the rich, centered on a wealthy couple that struggled with fidelity, money, and their passionate feelings for each other. Soon after came The Great Gatsby (1925) which can and should be read as an examination of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s obsession with his wife, as well as his recognition and later understanding of the different set of rules that the obscenely wealthy followed, all described through the eyes of narrator Nick Carraway.

Zelda, not to be outshined by her husband’s artistic fame, decided at 27 to follow a lifelong dream of becoming a ballerina. Apparently, she wasn’t half bad - she was offered a position with an Italian dance company. Sadly, her rocky marriage with Fitzgerald, financial ups and downs, and frustration with his alcoholism and literary thieving from their lives contributed to Zelda’s admittance in 1930 to the Sheppard Pratt sanatorium in Towson, Maryland after it was determined that Zelda had bipolar disorder. From then on, the Fitzgeralds’ lives took a serious downturn.

Zelda’s healthcare bills took a serious toll on Fitzgerald’s bank account and he was, again, forced to write short stories. Yet this time, the Great Depression had caused a serious lack of interest in Fitzgerald’s tales of the wealthy. He also used the nature of their marriage to inspire another novel, Tender Is the Night (1934), which follows the rise and fall of Dick Diver, a psychoanalyst and his wife, Nicole, one of his patients. Before Tender Is the Night made it to publication, however, Zelda produced her own work, a semi-autobiographical novel, Save Me the Waltz (1932) which she wrote during her stay at the sanatorium. Her husband, rather hypocritically, was furious that Zelda blatantly took material from their life together. As a result, their two novels, only a few years apart, provide opposing viewpoints of a failing celebrity marriage.

Alas, the Fitzgeralds’ story was not to have a happy ending. After years of alcohol abuse, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s health was failing. He died at age 44, on December 21st, 1940, of a heart attack in his mistress's home. He hadn’t seen Zelda in over a year, his popularity had waned, and his wealth was depleted. Barely anyone attended his funeral, a scene quite similar to the death of his own fictional creation, Jay Gatsby. Zelda lived eight more years before dying in a fire that tore through the hospital where she had been staying. It was in this way that the darling couple of the 1920s, who single-handedly heralded in the Jazz Age, succumbed to the passage of time.

After their deaths, their works and lives would see a revival, resulting in The Great Gatsby’s presence in almost every high school English curriculum, and Zelda’s worship by feminists who portrayed her as a brilliant woman subdued by an overly demanding husband. Fitzgerald’s works would soon become considered contenders for the best American literature ever written. The couple’s lives would become immortalized through many films depicting their high profile relationship, though neither lived to see each other’s return to fame.

Elizabeth Eckhart is an entertainment and film blogger for Direct-Ticket.net. Her favorite Fitzgerald tale is The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, mostly because the originality of the story stands out from even the author’s own impressive collection of work.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Giveaway Winners!

I have two giveaway winners to announce today!



The Queen's Gambit:
Amy C. (already won on another blog)
Carol W.

Freud's Mistress:
Marie

TLC Book Tours: Painted Hands by Jennifer Zobair

Title: Painted Hands
Author: Jennifer Zobair
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: Thomas Dunne Books
Publish Date: June 11, 2013
Source: TLC Book Tours






Why You're Reading This Book:

  • You're a fiction fan.
  • You like unique stories.
  • You love memorable characters.
What's the Story?:

Muslim bad girl Zainab Mir has just landed a job working for a post-feminist, Republican Senate candidate. Her best friend Amra Abbas is about to make partner at a top Boston law firm. Together they’ve thwarted proposal-slinging aunties, cultural expectations, and the occasional bigot to succeed in their careers. What they didn’t count on? Unlikely men and geopolitical firestorms.

When a handsome childhood friend reappears, Amra makes choices that Zainab considers so 1950s—choices that involve the perfect Banarasi silk dress and a four-bedroom house in the suburbs. After hiding her long work hours during their courtship, Amra struggles to balance her demanding job and her unexpectedly traditional new husband.

Zainab has her own problems. She generates controversy in the Muslim community with a suggestive magazine spread and friendship with a gay reporter. Her rising profile also inflames neocons like Chase Holland, the talk radio host who attacks her religion publicly but privately falls for her hard. When the political fallout from a terrorist attempt jeopardizes Zainab's job and protests surrounding a woman-led Muslim prayer service lead to violence, Amra and Zainab must decide what they’re willing to risk for their principles, their friendship, and love.


My Two Cents: 

"Painted Hands" is the story of two very different women. Both are Muslim Americans and although Amna and Zainab have grown up as best friends but now they are on very different paths. This is a fascinating story of friendship and culture and trying to find one's place in the world. I really enjoyed this book!

I was drawn into this story of friendship from the very beginning. Amna and Zainab were so fascinating to me. They both came from similar environments but they change into such different people. I really liked the unique voice that the author created for each of them. I thought the author did a really good job of showing us where each character was coming from. The writing was great and really drew me in.

I absolutely love books that can introduce me to new places and new cultures. In "Painted Hands," it's a new culture that had me riveted. I love reading about people who have very different lives than my own. The cool thing about people with different lives is that we are still all human and therefore, we can still find some common ground. You get an intimate glimpse into the worlds of the characters.

Overall, this was a great story!






Follow the Rest of the Tour:


Monday, September 9th: Bookalicious Mama
Tuesday, September 10th: Bibliophiliac
Wednesday, September 11th: Book Club Classics!
Thursday, September 12th: Ageless Pages Reviews
Monday, September 16th: BoundbyWords
Tuesday, September 17th: A Book Geek
Wednesday, September 18th: Svetlana’s Reads and Views
Thursday, September 19th: A Bookish Affair
Monday, September 23rd: BookNAround
Monday, September 23rd: Bibliotica
Tuesday, September 24th: Doing Dewey
Wednesday, September 25th: Stephany Writes
Thursday, September 26th: Drey’s Library
Monday, September 30th: Books in the City
Thursday, October 3rd: Reflections of a Bookaholic
Friday, October 4th: Not in Jersey
Monday, October 7th: Dreaming in Books
Tuesday, October 8th: Entomology of a Bookworm


Review: Cake by Lauren Dane

Title: Cake
Author: Lauren Dane
Format: Ebook
Publisher: Harlequin
Publish Date: September 15, 2013
Source: Netgalley






Why You're Reading This Book:

  • You're a romance fan.
What's the Story?:

From Goodreads.com: "Art student-slash-bike messenger Wren Davis pursues what she wants. And what she wants now is Gregori Ivanov, rock star of the Seattle art scene. With his tattoos, piercings and sensual sneer, Gregori is the ultimate bad boy. Wren’s gotten to know the man beneath the body art, too—and it only makes her crave him more.

But Gregori loves women like he loves cake and champagne—intensely, but only for the moment. And after Wren experiences just how scorching sex with Gregori is, she’s determined to show him that just one taste won’t be enough..."


My Two Cents:

"Cake" is a novella by Lauren Dane. This is a fun little story about Wren, a art student, and Gregori, the mysterious Russian artist who doesn't want to get in too deep. This is the second Cosmo Red Hot Reads by Harlequin book that I've read and I've really enjoyed these books. They're short but so much fun!

This novella is a quick read but it packs a romantic punch. It has a great love story. There was also a lot of hotness. This is the kind of book that you read when you need a quick pick me up.

Gregori was a really fantastic hero. He had a little bit of everything that I like in a romantic hero. He's strong and fascinating. He's easy on the eyes and oh yeah, he has a really hot accent (I love, love, love Russian accents).

I liked Wren and Gregori together but I feel like you got to know Gregori much better. I didn't not like Wren but I didn't really feel you really got to know her all that well.

Overall, this was a really fun book!


 

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Review: Paperboy by Tony Macaulay

Title: Paperboy: An Enchanting True Story of a Belfast Paperboy Coming to Terms with the Troubles
Author: Tony Macaulay
Format: Paperback
Publisher: HarperCollins
Publish Date: September 3, 2013
Source: I received a copy from the publisher; however, this did not affect my review.






Why You're Reading This Book:

  • You're a memoir fan.
What's the Story?:

From Goodreads.com: "It’s Belfast, 1975. The city lies under the dark cloud of the Troubles, and hatred fills the air like smoke. But Tony Macaulay has just turned twelve and he’s got a new job. He’s going to be a paperboy. And come rain or shine – or bombs and mortar – he will deliver…
 

Paperboy lives in Upper Shankill, Belfast, in the heart of the conflict between Loyalists and Republicans. Bombings are on the evening news, rubble lies where buildings once stood, and rumours spread like wildfire about the IRA and the UDA.
 

But Paperboy lives in a world of Doctor Who, Top of the Pops and fish suppers. His battles are fought with all the passion of Ireland’s opposing sides – but against acne, the dentist and the ‘wee hoods’ who rob his paper money. On his rounds he hums songs by the Bay City Rollers, dreams about outer space and dreams even more about the beautiful Sharon Burgess.
 

In this touching, funny and nostalgic memoir, Tony Macaulay recounts his days growing up in Belfast during the Troubles, the harrowing years which saw neighbour fighting neighbour and brother fighting brother. But in the midst of all this turmoil, Paperboy, a scrappy upstart with a wicked sense of humour and sky-high dreams, dutifully goes about his paper round. He is a good paperboy, so he is.
 

Paperboy proves that happiness can be found even in the darkest of times; it is a story that will charm your socks off, make you laugh out loud and brings to life the culture, stories and colourful characters of a very different – but very familiar – time.

My Two Cents:

"Paperboy" is the memoir of Tony Macaulay, a young boy who takes on a job as a paperboy in Belfast during the 1970s. If you know your history, you may recognize that the mid to late 1970s were the setting for the so-called "Troubles" in Northern Ireland, a tumultuous time to say the least. Tony is old enough to realize what is going on around him but is still busy growing up. Even in the face of really horrible things, Macaulay maintains his humor!

I love memoirs so much. I always think it's really cool to be able to walk in someone else's shoes. I knew about the Troubles from a historical perspective but I don't believe that I've read anything about the Troubles other than straight history books on the matter so I found this memoir really refreshing.

Even though this book takes place during a very serious time, Tony is still a kid so this book is filled with some of his funny 12-year-old antics. Some parts of this book made me laugh out loud. It was a good reminder that even when bad things are going on around you, there are still ways to make life a little bit more normal.

I liked the writing in this book. You do need to know a little bit about the Troubles in order to understand some of the things that happen in the book.  


Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Review: Geek Girls Don't Date Dukes by Gina Lamm

Title: Geek Girls Don't Date Dukes
Author: Gina Lamm
Format: Ebook
Publisher: Sourcebooks Casablanca
Publish Date: September 3, 2013
Source: Netgalley






Why You're Reading This Book:

  • You're a fiction fan.
  • You're a romance fan.
What's the Story?:

From Goodreads.com: "Leah Ramsey has always loved historical romance novels and dressing in period costumes. So when she has a chance to time travel and experience the history for herself, she jumps at it—figuring it can't be too hard to catch the eye of a duke. After all, it happens all the time in her novels.

Avery Russell, valet and prize pugilist, reluctantly helps Leah gain a position in the Duke of Granville's household . . . as a maid.

Domestic servitude wasn't exactly what she had in mind, but she's determined to win her happily ever after. Even if the hero isn't exactly who she's expecting."


My Two Cents:

Take a bit of contemporary romance, a little bit of Regency romance, and a little bit of time traveling and you get "Geek Girls Don't Date Dukes." This is a fun little story about Leah, a thoroughly modern woman, who doesn't think she can find a good man that will really love and understand her. When she has a chance to time travel back to the days of the Mr. Darcy's of the world, she does it in a heartbeat. She isn't sure what's she's going to find when she gets to the Regency era but it's sure to surprise her. I really liked this little twist on the traditional romance novel.

This is a really quick read and so much fun. This is the second book in the Geek Girls series by Lamm but this book can definitely be read as a standalone book. The romance between Leah and Avery was fantastic. Leah time travels thinking that she's going to meet a Duke or another royal but Avery turns out way different than she expected in the first place.

The ending of the book was a little abrupt so I'm hoping that if there are more books in this series that they'll cover what happens to Leah and Avery. This was a fun series and I'm looking forward to going back to read the first book! Overall, this was a great light read.


 

Monday, September 16, 2013

HF Virtual Book Tours Review and Giveaway: The Nine Fold Heaven by Mingmei Yip

Title: The Nine Fold Heaven
Author: Mingmei Yip
Format: ARC
Publisher: Kensington
Publish Date: June 25, 2013
Source: HF Virtual Book Tours






Why You're Reading This Book:

  • You're a historical-fiction fan.
What's the Story?:

From Goodreads.com: "In this mesmerizing new novel, Mingmei Yip draws readers deeper into the exotic world of 1930s Shanghai first explored in Skeleton Women, and into the lives of the unforgettable Camilla, Shadow, and Rainbow Chang.

When Shadow, a gifted, ambitious magician, competed with the beautiful Camilla for the affections of organized crime leader Master Lung, she almost lost everything. Hiding out in Hong Kong, performing in a run-down circus, Shadow has no idea that Camilla, too, is on the run with her lover, Jinying--Lung's son.

Yet while Camilla and Shadow were once enemies, now their only hope of freedom lies in joining forces to eliminate the ruthless Big Brother Wang. Despite the danger, Shadow, Camilla, and Jinying return to Shanghai. Camilla also has her own secret agenda--she has heard a rumor that her son is alive. And in a city teeming with spies and rivals--including the vengeful Rainbow Chang--each battles for a future in a country on the verge of monumental change."


My Two Cents:

"The Nine Fold Heaven" is a historical fiction novel that takes place in exotic 1930s Shanghai. This book is a follow on to Yip's "Skeleton Women," which I have not had a chance to read. For the most part, "The Nine Fold Heaven" can be read as a stand-alone novel. It did make me want to go back and read "Skeleton Women" though to get a little more insight into the backgrounds of the characters, especially Camilla, who narrates this story. You do get enough detail in "The Nine Fold Heaven" to understand what's going on in the story though so reading "Skeleton Women" is only a nice-to-have and not a necessary.

Oh, I really enjoyed this book. In this book, Camilla has run away from Shanghai only to return to find the son that she gave up. It's dangerous for her to be in the city since all of the city seems to be under the extremely watchful (and dangerous) eyes of Rainbow, the gossip columnist. I really liked Camilla. She's an incredibly strong character. She also has a really good heart. I loved following her adventure in this book. Because this book is the second installment of her story, there wasn't a lot of build up of her character, which left me wanting more.

I loved, loved, loved the setting of the book. I love armchair traveling and I thought that the author gave you a really good sense of what Shanghai must have been like in the 1930s with its dark underbelly filled with gangsters and gamblers. It was absolutely fascinating. I love when books take me to some place that I'm not familiar with. This setting also made me want to go back and read "Skeleton Women" so I could get more of this place. Also, in general, I've found it more difficult to find historical fiction set in Asia than in places like Europe so I'm always very excited when I do find something!

The writing of this book was great. I loved that the story was told from Camilla's point of view. So much of what she is thinking or feeling throughout the book is so important in the story. Yip did a great job of really making Camilla come to life for me in this book. The writing made me want to go back and not only read "Skeleton Women" but to also go back and read some of Yip's other books.

Overall, exotic locales and interesting characters make this book a great hist-fic pick!



Giveaway:

Today I am excited to be able to give away a copy of "The Nine Fold Heaven" by Mingmei Yip (US only). Just fill out the Rafflecopter form below. 

  a Rafflecopter giveaway

Follow the Rest of the Tour:

Monday, September 16
Review & Giveaway at A Bookish Affair
Tuesday, September 17
Review at Flashlight Commentary
Wednesday, September 18
Review at Must Read Faster
Interview at Flashlight Commentary
Thursday, September 19
Review at Oh, for the Hook of a Book!
Friday, September 20
Interview at Oh, for the Hook of a Book!
Monday, September 23
Guest Post at Closed the Cover
Tuesday, September 24
Review at A Bookish Libraria
Thursday, September 26
Guest Post at HF Connection
Tuesday, October 1
Review at Sharon’s Garden of Book Reviews
Thursday, October 3
Review at A Chick Who Reads
Friday, October 4
Guest Post at History Undressed
Monday, October 7
Giveaway at Passages to the Past
Wednesday, October 9
Review at Ageless Pages Reviews
Friday, October 11
Review at Silver’s Reviews
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Review: The Home Apothecary by Stacey Dugliss-Wesselman

Title: The Home Apothecary: Cold Spring Apothecary's Cookbook of Hand-Crafted Remedies & Recipes for the Hair, Skin, Body, and Home
Author: Stacey Dugliss-Wesselman
Format: Paperback
Publisher: Quarry Books
Publish Date: July 1, 2013
Source: I received a copy from the publisher; however, this did not affect my review.






Why You're Reading This Book:

  • You love DIY.
  • You're interested in natural ingredients.
What's the Story?:

From Goodreads.com: "With the resurgence of small-batch, locally crafted boutiques and brands that mimic heritage brand ideals, today’s consumers are looking for a product with an emphasis on locally sourced production and ingredients. They are already stocking their pantries and fridges with natural, whole foods and relying on real ingredients for better health. The Home Apothecary offers fresh ideas for caring for the body on the outside, too. It features a bounty of recipes: more than 75 original, natural, and absolutely chemical-free body care products from face masks to bug repellent to soothing lotions. Cold Spring Apothecary’s nationally recognized green-luxury beauty and home goods formulas will be taught in such a way that readers will soon be experimenting on their own."

My Two Cents:

I'm a total make-up/ beauty product junkie. I just love it! I'm also interested in using more natural ingredients. As much as I love all of my lotions and potions, I realize that some of them have some pretty icky ingredients. Here's where "The Home Apothecary" comes in! This book is jam packed of not only a really vast list of natural ingredients and what they do but it also a bunch of recipes for making remedies and body care products and it's awesome.

This book was really fascinating to me. As I think I've mentioned before, I have a little garden at my house, that I absolutely love. With this year being our first full year in the house, it was the first time that I had a chance to pick out plants to plant in my garden. I did it really haphazardly. If it was pretty, I put it in. As far as herbs go, if I liked it or it sounded interesting, it went in. After reading "The Home Apothecary," there are so many more things that I want to plant next year so that I can make more of the recipes in this book with my own plants, which would be so cool!

Some of the ingredients in this book would be very easily accessible at a grocery store or a good, robust health food store. Other ingredients may be a little harder to come by but that's what the internet is for.

The methods for making the recipes go from the very easy to intermediate or hard. Although with a little practice, the recipes look like they'd be accessible to just about anyone. Overall, I know this is a resource that I will be going back to over and over again. 


 

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Review: Fearless by Tawny Weber

Title: Fearless
Author: Tawny Weber
Format: Ebook
Publisher: Harlequin
Publish Date: September 15, 2013 (Today!)
Source: I received a copy from the author, publisher, and Netgalley; however, this did not affect my review.






Why You're Reading This Book:

  • You're a romance fan.
What's the Story?:

From Goodreads.com: "Promising career: check

Amazing apartment: check

The best of friends: check

Sex life: MIA

There’s just one thing missing from Gia Renyard’s life: sexual adventure. And the one man she’d like to have it with is her hot co-worker, Luke Monroe. If only company rules didn’t prohibit her from asking him out. So Gia comes up with a plan: make herself over into a fantasy seductress, follow Luke to a convention in Sin City, and have her way with him for one erotic weekend. The man will never even know who did him.

Everything is going according to plan—until Gia discovers that Luke is perfect for her outside the bedroom too. And suddenly she’s no longer content to let what happens in Vegas stay in Vegas…"


My Two Cents:

Looking for a hot story in a little package? "Fearless" might fit the bill for you. "Fearless" is a novella is the Cosmo Red Hot Reads from Harlequin series. The novella follows the story of Gia, a woman who works hard but doesn't seem to leave a lot of time for her to play. One day she gets up the courage to make her wildest fantasy come true but she may have gone too far.

Gia is part of a group of four women who have promised to take steps in order to rock their lives (they even wrote a book about it). Gia is a little shy but her girlfriends convince her to go after Luke Monroe, entrepreneur and definite hottie that Gia thinks is way out of her league. Oh and she sort of works for him indirectly.

I really liked the story between Gia and Luke. They are a good fit for each other. After one night together, they seem to have a really good connection even if Gia is initially convinced that it was a fluke and should be limited to a one night stand only.

This little book packs a punch. It's a fast read but with a lot of hotness. I could also see it being a series. I'd love to know more about Gia's other friends!



 
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