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Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Happy New Years Eve and New Years Day!


Happy New Years from A Bookish Affair! May your 2014 be filled with lots and lots of books!

I'll be back on January 2, 2014 (it's going to take me so long to get used to that date) with more book reviews!

Monday, December 30, 2013

Review: Beyond the Bear by Dan Bigley and Debra McKinney

Title: Beyond the Bear: How I Learned to Live and Love Again after Being Blinded by a Bear
Author: Dan Bigley and Debra McKinney
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: Lyons Press
Publish Date: April 2, 2013
Source: Borrowed from a friend






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: "A 25-year-old backcountry wanderer, a man happiest exploring wild places with his dog, Dan Bigley woke up one midsummer morning to a day full of promise. Before it was over, after a stellar day of salmon fishing along Alaska’s Kenai and Russian rivers, a grizzly came tearing around a corner in the trail. Dan barely had time for “bear charging” to register before it had him on the ground, altering his life forever.

“Upper nose, eyes, forehead anatomy unrecognizable,” as the medevac report put it.

Until then, one thing after another had fallen into place in Dan’s life. He had a job he loved taking troubled kids on outdoor excursions. He had just bought a cabin high in the Chugach Mountains with a view that went on forever. He was newly in love. After a year of being intrigued by a woman named Amber, they had just spent their first night together. All of this was shattered by the mauling that nearly killed him, that left him blind and disfigured.

Facing paralyzing pain and inconceivable loss, Dan was in no shape to be in a relationship. He and Amber let each other go. Five surgeries later, partway into his long healing journey, they found their way back to each other. The couple’s unforgettable story is one of courage, tenacious will, and the power of love to lead the way out of darkness. Dan Bigley’s triumph over tragedy is a testament to the ability of the human spirit to overcome physical and emotional devastation, to choose not just to live, but to live fully."


My Two Cents:

I went to Alaska fairly recently and before I went I had a ton of people tease me about getting eaten by a bear. One of my co-workers lent me this book after I had gone to Alaska and I have to say that I was very happy that I read this book after I went on my trip. I would have been absolutely terrified! This book is the memoir of Dan Bigley, a gentleman who was attacked by a bear and was lucky to be alive afterwards. I love memoirs that show courage in the face of adversity and this book definitely fits that bill.

This is a story of strength and resilience. Bigley was an avid outdoorsman and fisher so to have his life changed so much was difficult. He was blinded by the bear and basically had to relearn a lot of different skills in order to be able to still be independent. This book explores his entire journey from just before he was attacked to his life afterward. I loved following his journey.

This book also has a really beautiful love story in it. Just before he is attacked by a bear, he begins dating Amber, a woman who seems to be perfectly cut out for living in the beautiful but harsh Alaskan wilderness. They hadn't been dating all that long and when Bigley gets attacked, I'm sure there's a lot of women who wouldn't want to have to deal with all of the fallout but Amber steps up to the plate and is there 100% for Dan. I really liked this love story a lot.

The writing of the book was pretty good. While the book sometimes takes some jogs away from the action of the story, overall this book moves pretty fast. I recommend this book if you're looking for an exciting memoir and a true survivor story.


  

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Review: Kiss and Sell by Brittany Geragotelis

Title: Kiss and Sell
Author: Brittany Geragotelis
Format: Paperback
Publisher: Self-published
Publish Date: November 2013
Source: I received a copy from the author; however, this did not affect my review.






Why You're Reading This Book:

  • You're a YA fiction fan.
  • You're looking for a fun read.
What's the Story?:

From Goodreads.com: "Arielle Sawyer is freaking out because she’s the last person in her class to be kissed. Frustrated by her kissably-challenged lifestyle, Arielle allows herself to be talked into selling her first kiss to the highest bidder—on eBay. The media soon catches wind of her story and all of a sudden she’s giving interviews and appearing on popular late-night talk shows. Due to her newfound fame, the former wallflower suddenly finds herself the focus of everyone’s attention, including that of the most popular guy at school, an actor who just happens to be the teen heartthrob of the moment and even the local bad boy. But as her popularity grows and her friendships begin to weaken, Arielle starts to wonder why she put up the post in the first place. In the end there will be a winner, but will Arielle’s first kiss end up being everything she’s ever dreamed of?"

My Two Cents:

"Kiss and Sell" is a cute story about Arielle, a high-schooler who just wants her first kiss and decides that the best way to just simply get it out of the way would be to sell her first kiss on Ebay. She just wants to remove herself from the group that hasn't been kissed to the cool group that has. All the sudden her bid to get her first kiss is getting her all sorts of attention, both wanted and unwanted and she feels that she may have gotten in too deep. She eventually realizes that there is a much better way to go about this luckily!

I really liked Arielle as a character and I felt for her throughout the book. I can remember those high school days where everyone was so focused on what they had or hadn't done when in the scheme of things, it's not really that big of deal but in high school, it seems huge. We get to follow Arielle on that journey of her realizing that there is a lot more to life than simply just doing things to do them. It takes her awhile to realize that though.

There is a little bit of a love triangle present in this book but with this story, it really works. I really liked both Ryder and Cade. I wish we got to see a little bit more of Cade and how he falls for Arielle but overall, I did really like the romance in this book.

This book is a lot of fun. It does require a little bit of suspension of disbelief. I know that my parents would have killed me (and I think a lot of people's parents would do the same) if I tried to sell my first kiss on Ebay but Arielle's mom seems just fine with it! Overall, I really liked the story and recommend it for when you are looking for a light read!


 

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Review: Empress of the Seven Hills by Kate Quinn

Title: Empress of the Seven Hills
Author: Kate Quinn
Format: Paperback
Publisher: Berkley Trade
Publish Date: April 3, 2012
Source: Owned






Why You're Reading This Book:

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

From Goodreads.com: "Powerful, prosperous, and expanding ever farther into the untamed world, the Roman Empire has reached its zenith under the rule of the beloved Emperor Trajan. But neither Trajan nor his reign can last forever...

Brash and headstrong, Vix is a celebrated ex-gladiator returned to Rome to make his fortune. The sinuous, elusive Sabina is a senator's daughter who craves adventure. Sometimes lovers, sometimes enemies, Vix and Sabina are united by their devotion to Trajan. But others are already maneuvering in the shadows. Trajan's ambitious Empress has her own plans for Sabina. And the aristocratic Hadrian-the Empress's ruthless protégé and Vix's mortal enemy-has ambitions he confesses to no one, ambitions rooted in a secret prophecy.

When Trajan falls, the hardened soldier, the enigmatic empress, the adventurous girl, and the scheming politician will all be caught in a deadly whirlwind of desire and death that may seal their fates, and that of the entire Roman Empire..."


My Two Cents:

How do you know when you have found a really fantastic book? Like this: picture that you are on an airplane. It's a red eye and everyone is sleeping. You aren't sleeping because you are so into this book that you must finish it. You know you are going to be exhausted when you land. You finish the book finally and the ending is both so good and such a cliffhanger that you can't decide what you should do first. Should you throw the book across the plane because you can't believe that you have to wait such a long time for the next book to find out what happens after the cliffhanger? Should you cry quietly to yourself because the book moved you in such a way that you are mourning coming to the end? Should you wake up your dear husband (who is deeply asleep like you are supposed to be on a red-eye) and tell him all about the book? I opted for the last choice because I had to talk about the book to someone Right. That. Very. Second. My husband listened (such a good sport) and then told me to go to sleep (mostly so he could go back to sleep).

"Empress of the Seven Hills" is the third book in Kate Quinn's Rome series. You may want to read the other books before this one (mostly because they are great books, you will still understand this one). This book follows Vix, son of Thea from "Mistress of Rome", and Sabina, a woman who is high-born but wants so much more than what her station in life offers. I love both of these characters so much. Vix is so awesome. He's brash and hard-headed. He seems like he'd be a lot of fun to hang around with. Sabina is fascinating to me because she could lead a very privileged life but she is just not content with that. I love the love story between the two of them and loved following their adventures together. I cannot wait to see what the next book holds for them. These are characters that you are absolutely going to fall in love with. Quinn does a fantastic job of making them feel really real and bringing them to life.

I got sucked into this story. Between the awesome characters, the amazing setting, and the historical detail, I am one satisfied reader!


  

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Merry Christmas!!!

Here's to finding some good books in your stocking!!!

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Review: Daughters of Rome by Kate Quinn

Title: Daughters of Rome
Author: Kate Quinn
Format: Paperback
Publisher: April 5, 2011
Source: Owned






Why You're Reading This Book:

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

From Goodreads.com: "A.D. 69. Nero is dead.

The Roman Empire is up for the taking. With bloodshed spilling out of the palace and into the streets of Rome, chaos has become the status quo. The Year of Four Emperors will change everything—especially the lives of two sisters with a very personal stake in the outcome….

Elegant and ambitious, Cornelia embodies the essence of the perfect Roman wife. She lives to one day see her loyal husband as Emperor. Her sister, Marcella, is more withdrawn, content to witness history rather than make it. Even so, Marcella has her share of distinguished suitors, from a cutthroat contender for the throne to a politician’s son who swears that someday he will be Emperor.

But when a bloody coup turns their world upside down, Cornelia and Marcella—along with their cousins, one a collector of husbands and lovers, the other a horse-mad beauty with no interest in romance—must maneuver carefully just to stay alive. As Cornelia tries to pick up the pieces of her shattered dreams, Marcella discovers a hidden talent for influencing the most powerful men in Rome. In the end, though, there can only be one Emperor … and one Empress."


My Two Cents:

"Daughters of Rome" is the second book in Kate Quinn's "The Empress of Rome" series but this book feels more like a companion to the first book, "Mistress of Rome" rather than a sequel. That being said, you don't need to read the first book before you get to this one and you will understand this book just fine. However, "Mistress of Rome" is a treat so you should read it anyhow! "Daughters of Rome" is a great treat for the historical fiction lover!

The book takes place during the Year of Four Emperors and follows four young women as they try to pave their path through Ancient Rome. There is Cornelia, Lollia, Marcella, and Diana, who all have different ambitions for who they would like to marry and how they would like to live their lives. With their world in so much turmoil, some of them may not get their happy endings as they were hoping for. I really thought Quinn did a great job with making all of the characters feel singular and different from one another. We get to see their personalities and their ambitions.

The detail in this book was fantastic. As I said, this book is a great treat for historical fiction fans. The Year of Four Emperors was an extremely violent and dangerous year in Roman history and the author really makes it come to life. The cast of characters could easily have become a little bit overwhelming but the author is deftly able to show the readers how all of the pieces and personalities fit together in a way that is thoroughly entertaining.

Overall, come for the history, stay for the characters.


  

Monday, December 23, 2013

Secret Santa!

Things have been crazy busy around here lately with trying to prepare for the holidays. My husband and I usually spend our Christmas holiday traversing between my family and his family. It is a lot of fun to see everyone but it certainly does keep us busy!

Last week I received my Secret Santa present from the Secret Santa that The Broke and the Bookish does every year. I received my awesome gift from Amy of What Will She Read Next. I am soooo excited.

Here's what I got:






Ooolala! I've been dying to read Where'd You Go, Bernadette!

Review: Mistress of Rome by Kate Quinn

Title: Mistress of Rome
Author: Kate Quinn
Format: Paperback
Publisher: Berkley Trade
Publish Date: April 6, 2010
Source: Owned






Why You're Reading This Book:

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

From Goodreads.com: "Thea is a slave girl from Judaea, passionate, musical, and guarded. Purchased as a toy for the spiteful heiress Lepida Pollia, Thea will become her mistress's rival for the love of Arius the Barbarian, Rome's newest and most savage gladiator. His love brings Thea the first happiness of her life-that is quickly ended when a jealous Lepida tears them apart.

As Lepida goes on to wreak havoc in the life of a new husband and his family, Thea remakes herself as a polished singer for Rome's aristocrats. Unwittingly, she attracts another admirer in the charismatic Emperor of Rome. But Domitian's games have a darker side, and Thea finds herself fighting for both soul and sanity. Many have tried to destroy the Emperor: a vengeful gladiator, an upright senator, a tormented soldier, a Vestal Virgin. But in the end, the life of the brilliant and paranoid Domitian lies in the hands of one woman: the Emperor's mistress."


My Two Cents:

This sweeping historical fiction novel is the story of Thea, a slave, who lives in Rome. Rome during this time period is a place of intrigue, rumors, danger, and love. Even though she is a slave, Thea is able to carve out a really amazing life for herself. I really enjoyed reading about her adventures and the way she is able to transform herself from mere slave into something much more.

This book is definitely a treat for historical fiction lovers. There is so much good detail here. Quinn really brings you right into the world of Ancient Rome. You really can see the gladiators fighting and the palaces. This is the kind of book that you better have a lot of time on your hands when you start because once you do, you are not going to want to stop.

There are so many good things going on in this book. The setting is wonderful. The story is really fantastic. I really wanted to see what happened to Thea and was happy that I already knew that we would get a glimpse of her in Empress of the Seven Hills. If I hadn't known that, I would have been extremely sad at the end of this book merely because I really liked her as a character so much.


  

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Best Books of 2013!

Tis the season for lots and lots of end of the year book lists, which means that my TBR list is seemingly growing like kudzu. To add to all of the noise, I thought it was time to put together my best-of list for 2013. After reading 300 plus books this year (I had a great reading year), here are the books that I absolutely loved this year. These are the books that I find myself recommending over and over and over again. These are the books that I want to talk about to everyone I meet!

Here they are (in no particular order; it was hard enough to pick these books without ranking them):

1. Allergies Away by Ginger Park and Frances Park: 

Food allergies seem to abound these days. This book makes it a little easier to deal.

My Review

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

Gorgeous pictures and gorgeous ideas for your garden!

My Review

3. Buried in Books by Julie Rugg:

A treat for those whose lives are filled with books!

My Review

4. Inside the White House by Noel Grove, Joel D. Treese (Contributor), William B. Bushong (Contributor):

A beautiful book filled with the history of one of the most famous houses in the world!

My Review

5. 84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff:

A great story about friendships built over books (is there a better kind?).

My Review

6. Empress of the Seven Hills by Kate Quinn:

Great characters, great historical detail, and oh, there's a killer cliffhanger to boot!

 (This review will be up on the blog this week but you can read my Goodreads review now)

7. Archetype by M.D. Waters:

Great sci-fi and a wonderful opening to a series that I'm quite excited for!

My Review

 8. A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra:

A stunning debut that will tug on your emotions!

My Review

9. Daughters of the Nile by Stephanie Dray:

Lovely historical detail, a kick-ass heroine, and a great ending to a trilogy!

My Review

10. The Tragedy Paper by Elizabeth Laban:

 A great story with memorable characters! This book will slay your emotions!

My Review

What were some of your favorite reads this year?

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Review: Women of Steel and Stone: 22 Inspirational Architects, Engineers, and Landscape Designers by Anna M. Lewis

Title: Women of Steel and Stone: 22 Inspirational Architects, Engineers, and Landscape Designers
Author: Anna M. Lewis
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: Chicago Review Press
Publish Date: January 1, 2014
Source: I received a copy from the publisher; however, this did not affect my review.






Why You're Reading This Book:

  • You're a non-fiction fan.
  • You want to be inspired!
What's the Story?:

From Goodreads.com: "Reporting on a range of historical and contemporary female builders and designers, this educational book strives to inspire a new generation of girls in the disciplines of science, technology, engineering, and math. With many of the profiles set against the backdrop of such landmark events as the women’s suffrage and civil rights movements and the Industrial Revolution, and with original interviews from a number of current architects and engineers, this book provides inspiration and advice directly to young women by highlighting positive examples of how a strong work ethic, perseverance, and creativity can overcome life’s obstacles. Each profile focuses on the strengths, passions, and interests each woman had growing up; where those traits took them; and what they achieved. Sidebars on related topics, source notes, and a bibliography make this an invaluable resource for further study."

My Two Cents:

Architecture and engineering are both extremely fascinating fields to me. "Women of Steel and Stone" is made up of mini biographies of some females that have had a huge impact in the fields of architecture, engineering, and landscape architecture. This book definitely whetted my appetite to learn more about these amazing women.

While women have been involved in architecture and enginneering for a long time (there was actually a woman included in the first 12 architects to take an official licensing exam in the United States), these fields have often been seen as a man's world and women have really had to fight in order to be included and to be successful in those fields. This book recounts their struggles and their successes. I really enjoyed reading about these women.

There were a couple architects and engineers that I recognized in this book but many more that were brand new to me. They were all super successful but many of them remain the unsung heroes of these fields. I especially enjoyed reading about some of the women who worked and contributed to their fields when many women did not work at all. I can only imagine how hard it must have been for these women to shake off what was expected of them and to go into these fields, which were not all that welcoming to women in the first place.

As I said, I would love to read more about many of these women. One very nice feature of this book is that the author includes a little biography to tell you where to find more information on these women and their careers. I enjoyed this book overall!


  

Friday, December 20, 2013

Why Do We Read?


A couple days ago, I came across this article entitled "Damsels in Distress: Why Do So Many Contemporary Women Read Old-Fashioned Romance Novels?" In this article, the author ponders why there are so many women that enjoy romance novels and then he chalks it up to things like this: "Perhaps most women (even the ones who get lost in romance novels) do not want to go all the way back – but it is obvious, they are unhappy with how the world has turned out in the contemporary era."

Sigh...

While I find the article a bit offensive (why is it not okay for women to read what they want simply because they want to read it???), it got me to thinking a little bit more about why I read or rather why any of us read. I know that for me personally I usually don't find myself reading because I want to have lives like the characters or the people in the book. I'm usually not yearning for something in my own life. I read to be entertained. I read to escape. I read to learn. Of course there is probably a character or two or a real life person in one of the biographies that I love to read where I do think about how it would be to be more like that person or that person exactly but I would not say that's my main purpose in reading. And that only happens once in awhile. You can find someone's life fascinating and not want to be them!

It is simply not as cut and dry as wanting to be another person. We read to learn about others and to share in parts of the human existence that we have not experienced ourselves. We want to put ourselves in other people's shoes. Not a single one of us has the same set of experiences and thoughts so to be able to share an experience or thought through a book is truly a special thing!

Why do you read?




Review: Until We End by Frankie Brown

Title: Until We End
Author: Frankie Brown
Format: Ebook
Publisher: Bloomsbury Spark
Publish Date: December 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 YA fiction fan.
  • You're a dystopian fan.
What's the Story?:

From Goodreads.com: "It’s been nine months since the virus hit, killing almost everyone it touched. Seventeen-year-old Cora and her little brother, Coby, haven’t left home since. Not after the power cut out; not even after sirens faded in the distance and the world outside their backyard fence fell silent.
But when a blistering drought forces Cora to go in search of water, she discovers that the post-apocalyptic world isn’t as deserted as she thought when she meets Brooks, a drop-dead sexy army deserter.

Fighting their way back home, Cora finds her house ransacked and Coby missing – kidnapped by the military for dangerous medical experiments in the name of a cure. Brooks knows exactly where Cora can find her brother, except it’s a suicide mission. Cora doesn’t care. But Brooks can’t let her go…"


My Two Cents:

"Until the End" is a dystopian book that takes place after a virus has almost wiped out the entire population. Unlike a lot of other dystopian books, this book seems to take place in the nearer future, like the really near future, which makes it a little creepier. My fellow dystopian lovers will also enjoy this tale.

I really, really like the main character, Cora. She and her brother, Coby, are left behind by their doctor father to fend for themselves. Cora's dad was a prepper and said that they should never leave their house. When Cora leaves, it starts a domino effect of issues that move the book along. Cora is smart and brave and I loved following her through this book.

I did find myself wishing that the book went into a little bit more about the virus and how many people it had affected. I didn't really get much of a sense of the virus was localized or if it had spread throughout the entire country or world. I feel that if I had known more about the virus, I would have understood what was going on a little bit better.

Dystopian is one of my favorite genres to read about but sometimes a lot of them feel the same as each other. What I appreciated about this book is that it felt like something that could actually happen. A pandemic is a very possible threat. This book is YA fiction but probably is best for older YA readers as some of the book is there some violence. There are not any future books listed on Goodreads or Amazon that I could find but with the way this book ends (somewhat of a cliffhanger), I really feel like there could be a future book. Count me among those rooting for a sequel!


Thursday, December 19, 2013

Review: Virginia Woolf's Garden by Caroline Zoob

Title: Virginia Woolf's Garden
Author: Caroline Zoob
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: Jacqui Small LLP
Publish Date: November 1, 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 non-fiction fan.
  • You're a garden fan.
What's the Story?:

From Goodreads.com: "A chronological account takes the reader through the key events in the lives of Virginia and Leonard Woolf, and their deaths. This is allied to an account of the garden and its development, and the creation and development of the key areas of the garden. A wonderful selection of full-colour contemporary photographs, archive photographs, illustrated maps and planting plans take the reader through the various garden ‘rooms’, including the Italian Garden, the  Millstone garden, the Orchard, the Vegetable Garden, the Terrace, the Walled Garden, the Fishpond Garden and the Greenhouses and Conservatories. Throughout there are quotations from Virginia and Leonard’s diaries, giving a vivid account of their plans for, views on and activities in the garden."

My Two Cents:

"Virginia Woolf's Garden" is a gorgeous book filled with beautiful pictures of Virginia Woolf's garden. After reading this book, I have a feeling that I know where Ms. Woolf got some of her inspiration from. It would be hard not to be inspired while living in such gorgeous surroundings. One interesting thing about this book is that the author actually lived in the house where Ms. Woolf and her husband once walked so in a way, you almost get an insider point of view of the gardens and the house.

Zoob gives us insight into Virginia Woolf and her husband. I loved learning about their lives together and their lives in the house. This book is truly beautiful and I know that it is definitely a book that I am going to want to go back to over and over again. I really liked that the author included maps of what exactly was planted in all of the various gardens. I loved being able to see what plants Woolf put together and it really helped me to picture what the gardens looked like.

Even if you don't know much about Woolf before reading this book, this book may be a good jumping off point for you. I believe that you can learn so much from someone's surroundings! Overall, this is a great book.


 

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Giveaway: Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters!

Enter for a chance to win the Percy Jackson Sea Of Monsters Blu-ray Combo Pack and exclusive Percy Jackson & The Olympians: The Sea Of Monsters comic book!


Synopsis
The magical, mythical adventures of teenager Percy Jackson — son of the Greek god Poseidon — continue in this heroic, action-packed thrill ride!  Out to prove he’s not just a “one-quest wonder,” Percy and his demigod friends embark on an epic, cross-country journey into the treacherous Sea of Monsters, where they battle terrifying creatures, an army of zombies, and the ultimate evil. With time running out, Percy must find and bring home the fabled Golden Fleece, which has the power to save his world...and save us all!


Percy Jackson Sea of Monsters 3D Blu-ray Deluxe Edition,
available on Blu-ray and DVD December 17

Be sure to follow Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment on Twitter  @FoxHomeEnt for the latest Blu-ray & DVD releases


Want a chance to win? Just fill out the Rafflecopter form below! (US only)

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Review: Iron Curtain: The Crushing of Eastern Europe, 1944-1956 by Anne Applebaum

Title: Iron Curtain: The Crushing of Eastern Europe, 1944-1956
Author: Anne Applebaum
Format: Audiobook
Publisher: Doubleday
Publish Date: October 30, 2012
Source: Library






Why You're Reading This Book:

  • You're a non-fiction fan. 
  • You're a history buff
What's the Story?:

From Goodreads.com: "At the end of World War II, the Soviet Union to its surprise and delight found itself in control of a huge swath of territory in Eastern Europe. Stalin and his secret police set out to convert a dozen radically different countries to Communism, a completely new political and moral system. In Iron Curtain, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Anne Applebaum describes how the Communist regimes of Eastern Europe were created and what daily life was like once they were complete. She draws on newly opened East European archives, interviews, and personal accounts translated for the first time to portray in devastating detail the dilemmas faced by millions of individuals trying to adjust to a way of life that challenged their every belief and took away everything they had accumulated. Today the Soviet Bloc is a lost civilization, one whose cruelty, paranoia, bizarre morality, and strange aesthetics Applebaum captures in the electrifying pages of Iron Curtain."

My Two Cents:

I am a total history nerd! I love, love, love reading the history of things that I really don't know much about. I really have not read all that much about the time period just after the end of World War II where the Soviet Union was ingraining itself into what would become almost 50 years of crushing rule over itself and the Soviet bloc countries. So much of what happened just after World War II set up some key pieces of the geopolitical structure of our world (old habits die hard and what not). In "Iron Curtain," Applebaum gives us a great history of how the Soviet Union gained so much strength in Eastern Europe (under Applebaum's definition for this book, Eastern Europe are those countries in Europe that were under the sphere of Soviet influence such as Hungary, Poland, Czechoslovakia, and East Germany).

The author focuses on different aspects of how the Soviet Union was able to gain such a strong foothold in the various Eastern European countries. It was interesting to see how things played out in each country and how the Soviet Union tweaked its operation within each country in order to get the country to do what it wanted. The book goes into a little bit about the "Little Stalins" of each country, the people who were put in place to do Stalin's bidding. I didn't know much of anything about many of them so it was interesting to learn more about who they were and why Stalin trusted them to be put into place.

There is a great chapter on Soviet architecture, which was super interesting to me. Stalin used architecture in a lot of places to create visual reminders of his rule. Even if you are not an architecture aficionado, you probably can guess what Soviet/ Stalinist architecture looks like. The style is called brutalism, which is wholly appropriate. It's not beautiful and can often look a little bit scary and definitely intimidating. Stalin brought a lot of architects into his fold and had very specific ideas of how the architecture should be done. It was interesting to see architecture used as a form of political persuasion.

I also really enjoyed the information about the various resistances that were occurring in the various countries. This book had a really interesting section on some of the youth rebels who dressed a certain way and listened to certain music (jazz, of all things) in order to try to show their distaste for Soviet rule.

The book starts out a little slowly. The author gives a lot of background on her methodology for the research of her book, which is not all that interesting, especially when you are listening to an audiobook version of the book. But the book really picks up once it starts getting into the meat of the topic at hand.

Now let me mention that I listened to this book through audiobook and I really want to go back and read it. It is a very hefty audiobook and the narrator kind of drones a little bit, which made it a little dry in some parts. Eventually, I may go back and reread the book version of this book as there are some details of the book that I would like to revisit. All in all, history fans will definitely enjoy this book.




  

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Giveaway Winners!






I have some giveaway winners to announce today!

Illuminations:
Meghan

Buying In:
Bonnie

The Color of Heaven:
Natasha

All of the winners have been emailed at this time!

Review: You're Not Pretty Enough by Jennifer Tress

Title: You're Not Pretty Enough
Author: Jennifer Tress
Format: Paperback
Publisher: Self-published
Publish Date: August 6, 2013
Source: I received a copy from the PR; however, this did not affect my review.






Why You're Reading This Book:

  • You're a memoir fan.
  • You want to laugh and cry!
What's the Story?:

From Goodreads.com: "You’re Not Pretty Enough is like Jenny Lawson’s Let’s Pretend This Never Happened meets Cheryl Strayed’s Dear Sugar. From the “Sex Papers” Jen drew as a four-year-old when her mom was pregnant with her younger sister, to her sole teenage act of rebellion: going to church. “We’re very disappointed in you,” her nonreligious parents said. When she was sixteen Jennifer fell in love with Jon Bon Jovi and felt certain that if he just met her, he’d feel exactly the same way. They met all right. But that’s not what happened.

At twenty-three Jen married her college sweetheart and divorced him at twenty-six after he’d had an affair. Affairs happen every day. What doesn’t happen every day? The wife and the girlfriend meeting at a bar, discovering they liked each other, and then confronting Jen’s husband that same night.

The true stories contained here are smart, uproarious and utterly relatable. Told chronologically and chock full of truths, You’re Not Pretty Enough provides an example of how to be comfortable in your own skin and ultimately live a full life (even if you screw up, royally, along the way)."


My Two Cents:

"You're Not Pretty Enough" is a memoir by Jennifer Tress. The book is broken up in different stories from her life. Some of the stories are very, very funny (like the time when she met Jon Bon Jovi and was absolutely enamored with him and oh, they happened to have the same haircut). Some of the stories are very sad (such as the one about her divorce where her husband actually tells Jennifer that she is not pretty enough). This book is a great pick for those looking for a memoir that covers the gamut of emotions.

I love books that can make me feel a lot of different emotions. I want to laugh out loud. I want to tear up. I definitely got that with this book. Ms. Tress writes incredibly candidly about all of these different stories from her life. Even in the more serious essays on her life, Tress shows that having a sense of humor about things will truly get you far. I liked some of the stories better than others but all in all, most of the essays are pretty solid!

I was especially touched by the story of Tress' divorce and some of the horrible things her ex-husband said to her up to and during the divorce. Just the thought of anyone hearing "you're not pretty enough" from someone makes my stomach drop. No one should have to hear for such hurtful words. Tress realized that and has made it her mission to talk about her experiences in order to potentially help others, which is a cause I can totally get behind!


 

Monday, December 16, 2013

Review: These Broken Stars by Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner

Title: These Broken Stars
Author: Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner
Format: Ebook
Publisher: Disney Hyperion
Publish Date: December 10, 2013
Source: Netgalley






Why You're Reading This Book:

  • You're a YA fiction fan.
  • You're a sci-fi fan.
What's the Story?:

From Goodreads.com: "It's a night like any other on board the Icarus. Then, catastrophe strikes: the massive luxury spaceliner is yanked out of hyperspace and plummets into the nearest planet. Lilac LaRoux and Tarver Merendsen survive. And they seem to be alone.

Lilac is the daughter of the richest man in the universe. Tarver comes from nothing, a young war hero who learned long ago that girls like Lilac are more trouble than they’re worth. But with only each other to rely on, Lilac and Tarver must work together, making a tortuous journey across the eerie, deserted terrain to seek help.

Then, against all odds, Lilac and Tarver find a strange blessing in the tragedy that has thrown them into each other’s arms. Without the hope of a future together in their own world, they begin to wonder—would they be better off staying here forever?

Everything changes when they uncover the truth behind the chilling whispers that haunt their every step. Lilac and Tarver may find a way off this planet. But they won’t be the same people who landed on it."


My Two Cents:

Okay, first, let me just get this out of the way, "These Broken Stars" has one of the most gorgeous covers out of any other 2013 release. The gorgeous cover did not factor into my review but I had to say something because the cover is to die for. Not to worry, the story is pretty stand-up as well. This book is a sci-fi love story of Lilac, the daughter of the richest man in the universe, and Tarver, a guy who comes from lowly beginnings. If things had stayed normal, they never would have been running in the same circles but when tragedy strikes and they are thrown together to brave a new world, they fall hard for each other. I loved this love story!

The book is told from the point of both Lilac and Tarver, which I thought worked really well in this book. The characters come from very different worlds, which means that they have very different values and beliefs. It was really interesting to me to read about how they were able to reconcile things between each other. Because the book is written in the first person point of view, you also don't get all of the information at once, which as much as I wanted to know more, I enjoyed being able to figure out what was going on with this brand new planet as Lilac and Tarver figured it out.

I really liked the sci-fi elements of this book. I had been craving more sci-fi in my reading diet and this book definitely fit the bill in that regard. The first part of the book is very much action oriented and then the action sort of falls away for a little bit so that we really get to know the characters well and see what they were going through.

This book is the first book in a planned series. Because there is a cliffhanger at the end, I am anxiously awaiting reading the next installation of the series. I actually wish that I had been able to hold off reading this book for a little bit longer as I really want the next book to come out now!!! I hate waiting... Overall, this book has action and romance and I really liked it!


  

Happy birthday, Jane Austen!

Today would have been Jane Austen's 238th birthday! In order to help you party, Open Road Media has two ways for you to celebrate:
·      Jane Austen meets Mean Girls, Austin Powers, and Groundhog Day. Sound too good to be true? It's not! They have all come together to help you figure out 7 ways to celebrate Jane Austen's birthday.
·      Matchmaking, like stormy weather, class disputes, and Lydia Bennet, runs rampant in Jane Austen's novels, and we here at Open Road have decided to try our hand at this very Austen activity. We've matched up some of Austen's most beloved characters with an array of picks from contemporary literature across all genres, including works by Gloria Steinem, Barbara Pym, and Dorothy Sayers to name a few. So, Austen fans: Meet Your Match.


Friday, December 13, 2013

Review and Interview: Inside the White House by Noel Grove, Joel D. Treese (Contributor), William B. Bushong (Contributor)

Title: Inside the White House: Stories From the World's Most Famous Residence
Authors: Noel Grove, Joel D. Treese (Contributor), William B. Bushong (Contributor)
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: National Geographic
Publish Date: November 12, 2013
Source: I received a copy from the publisher; however, this did not affect my review.






What's the Story?:

From Goodreads.com: "In collaboration with the White House Historical Association, National Geographic presents this authoritative overview of America's first home featuring never-before published stories and photographs. Organized by theme, discover what makes the White House tick--from its beginnings to the modern day, from the architecture, to the staff, to the first families. Learn fascinating details of the real-life Downton Abbey staff who run this grand home. Marvel at the elaborate detail that goes into hosting a state dinner. Meet the beloved pets who've inhabited 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Read about celebrity visitors, the media, and the security so critical in today's world. Sidebars contain tidbits of rare information, and an appendix includes an illustrated time line of all White House First Families as well as a complete index. Photos include intimate and candid glimpses of life inside the White House--some never before seen, others long forgotten, and most never displayed in such large format."

My Two Cents:

"Inside the White House" is a fantastic book that will please both my fellow history lovers and my fellow lovers of beautiful books. Filled with fascinating stories about what is possibly one of the most famous houses in the world, this book gives insight into some of the things that have happened to the building throughout time and some of the stories of the people who lived in the house. I know this is a book that I am going to be referring to over and over again. It has some really interesting stories that I had never heard about before as well as some that I am more familiar with (some of the holiday traditions, Jackie Kennedy's big push to return the White House to its grandeur, the burning of the White House during the War of 1812, etc.).

I absolutely loved this book. Being both really into history and really into politics, I'm fascinated by White House history. I live in the Washington, D.C. area and any time that I walk by the White House, I am always driven to stop and gaze at it. It's truly a stunning building. Although I've taken tours of the White House before, it has been awhile so I loved seeing all of the pictures of the rooms in the building as well as some of the interesting portraits and furnishings that the building holds. The building is now a monument to the American people and our shared history. If you can't live in the White House, this book gets you pretty darn close!

The White House is so much more than just a building and so much has happened there. The book is divided up into various sections. There are sections on everything from the building of the White House to famous people that have come to visit the White House. There is a ton of information in the book so you definitely need a little bit of time to digest it. I recommend this book to anyone who loves American history!





Interview with Bill Bushong (Contributor to Inside the White House):

I am incredibly excited to welcome Bill Bushong from the White House Historical Association here to A Bookish Affair today to talk about some of the wonderfully rich holiday traditions that the White House has or has had in the past.

 

What are some of your favorite holiday traditions at the White House?

My personal favorite holiday tradition is the Easter Egg roll.  It is a public event enjoyed by more than 35,000 visitors these days and has been held since 1878. It is at heart a children’s event and the images of the egg rollers recorded on camera for more than 130 years are a real treasure trove of American social history. Kids really make the event special and the stories are marvelous. My favorite anecdote was the way enterprising children during the Great Depression would “hire out” for a fee. For many years the rules for adult admission to the Egg Roll required being accompanied by a child and vice versa. The kids would escort as many people in as they could, but eventually the White House police stationed men at the gates in 1939 to “break these rackets.”

What is the most interesting holiday tradition that the White House has now or has had in the past?

The most interesting holiday tradition that no longer exists is the New Year’s Day public reception.  This reception was once important as it symbolized the beginning of the winter social season in Washington.  The state dinners and diplomatic receptions would be scheduled during the winter months.  John and Abigail Adams began the tradition in 1801. By the mid-nineteenth century a protocol had been established.  First came members of the diplomatic corps, Congress, the Supreme Court and the Cabinet in the morning and after lunch the house was opened to citizens. Herbert Hoover ended the custom after he and First Lady Lou Hoover shook hands with more than six thousand people at the 1932 reception leaving their hands swollen and in pain. It did not help matters that during the Great Depression, the press widely publicized the story of one man who mistook the line of people waiting at the White House for a bread line. The Hoovers made sure they were out of town in 1933, and this New Year’s Day event has not been revived since.

How have the White House holidays changed throughout time?

Holidays at the White House have changed just as our national customs have changed generally.  The Christmas holidays are a prime example.  The White House observance of Christmas before the twentieth century was not an official event. First families decorated the White House for themselves and their friends.  Today, public tours and television cameras sweep through the White House and put the house on display. President Calvin Coolidge was the first chief executive to preside over a public celebration of the Christmas holidays with the lighting of the National Christmas Tree in 1923. Today, the lighting of the National Christmas Tree at the Christmas Pageant of Peace, a major televised event to kick off the holiday season, is held annually on the Ellipse. This celebration, held since 1954, respects the holiday worship of all faiths and features the appearance of the first family to light the tree and host live musical and dance performances.  The quickening pace of news reporting from an era of weekly newspaper reports to a 24/7 spotlight on the White House has changed the manner holidays are observed in general.  We expect to see the turkey pardoned on national television at Thanksgiving and a big fireworks production on the Mall to celebrate the Fourth of July.  That is a far cry from Abraham Lincoln’s private pardon of a turkey that his son Tad had made a pet and Thomas Jefferson throwing a house party with a country fair on what became Lafayette Square on July 4, 1803.

Do Presidents tend to all follow the same holiday traditions or do they tend to put their own spin on the traditions?

Every president adds their own touch to the celebration of the Christmas holidays.  From the earliest times memorable parties have been held for the president’s children or grandchildren. One of the most elaborate was President Andrew Jackson’s “frolic” for the children of his household in 1834. This party included games, dancing, a grand dinner, and ended with an indoor “snowball fight” with specially made cotton balls. The first White House Christmas tree, decorated with candles and toys, was placed in the second floor oval room, then used as a library and family parlor, in 1889 by President Benjamin Harrison for his family. President Calvin Coolidge was the first chief executive to preside over a public celebration of the Christmas holidays with the lighting of the National Christmas Tree in 1923.  Franklin D. Roosevelt enjoyed gathering his large extended family together, including all the grandchildren to read aloud Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol on Christmas Eve.  President Theodore Roosevelt, an ardent conservationist, frowned on cutting trees for Christmas.  Mamie Eisenhower had 26 trees filling every floor in the house. So you can see that first families always bring variety to the celebration of Christmas.

What is the strangest holiday tradition that the White House has ever had?

This may not fit the strange category, but it was definitely a break from the usual.  On at least two occasions President Warren Harding was sent a “fat southern opossum” for Thanksgiving dinner.  His benefactors were from Tennessee and Oklahoma.  I suspect both animals ended up at the National Zoo.  The presidents often received gifts of food at the holiday season, including turkeys, fruit, jellies, and pies. Horace Vose, the “poultry king of Westerly, Rhode Island” famously sent a prize turkey to the White House at Thanksgiving and Christmas from the time of Ulysses S. Grant to William Howard Taft.  These prize birds weighed from 35-50 pounds and always ended up on the president’s dining table.


Can you tell us a little bit about any themes for this year's holiday?

The White House should be announcing the theme for the 2013 decorations any day now.


How long does it typically take to get the White House ready for the holidays? Who does the work?

It is a year long process that requires meticulous planning.  First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy set the modern standard for holiday decorations in 1961 when she decorated a tree placed in the oval Blue Room with ornamental toys, birds, and angels modeled after Petr Tchaikovsky's "Nutcracker Suite" ballet.   Ever since 1961 the first lady with her staff select a theme and plan the holiday decorations for the White House.  Of course, the White House chief floral designer plans, designs, and arranges the placement of all floral decorations for the first family and is vital to the execution of the annual holiday theme.  Four assistant floral designers and an army of volunteers help create the marvelous displays each year.


How can people see the White House at the holidays?  

Public tour requests are arranged through one’s member of Congress.  The details are on the White House web site: http://www.whitehouse.gov/about/tours-and-events

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Review: Between the Lines by Jodi Picoult and Samantha van Leer

Title: Between the Lines
Authors: Jodi Picoult and Samantha van Leer
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Publish Date: June 26, 2012
Source: Library






Why You're Reading This Book:

  • You're a YA fiction fan.
  • You believe in fairy tales.
What's the Story?:

From Goodreads.com: "Delilah, a loner hates school as much as she loves books— one book in particular. In fact if anyone knew how many times she has read and reread the sweet little fairy tale she found in the library, especially her cooler than cool classmates, she’d be sent to social Siberia forever.To Delilah, though, this fairy tale is more than just words on the page. Sure, there’s a handsome (well, okay, incredibly handsome) prince, and a castle, and an evil villain, but it feels as if there’s something deeper going on. And one day, Delilah finds out there is. Turns out, this Prince Charming is not just a one-dimensional character in a book. He’s real, and a certain fifteen-year-old loner has caught his eye. But they’re from two different worlds, and how can it ever possibly work?"

My Two Cents:

Oh, I really liked this book a lot. I wasn't sure what to expect from this book as it is written by Jodi Picoult and her daughter, Samantha Van Leer. I love Jodi Picoult's books and have read almost all of them. She's definitely been a consistently good author for me to read. While this book is very different from Picoult's other novels, I really enjoyed this one and would absolutely love a sequel. This book is sort of a fairy tale about a young teen's whose book comes to life. It's truly every book lovers dream. It requires some suspension of disbelief but that doesn't seem to ever be too difficult for the true book lover, eh?

The story line itself was very original and truly engaging. Delilah is a bookish teenager that is dealing with some pretty tough things. Instead of engaging and trying to make things better for herself, she finds herself escaping into the comfort of her favorite fairy tale. It's a story that's meant for younger readers and Delilah's mom doesn't get why Delilah is so obsessed with the book. I felt so much for Delilah. I know there has definitely been times where I didn't really feel equipped to deal with what was going on in my life so I escaped into a book. Again, I think a lot of book lovers do that! Delilah finds that the characters in her book may have more than meets the eye (I definitely don't want to give away some of the twists and the turns in the book).

This is a good book for any book lover that is looking for a whimsical, bookish love story! I would absolutely love a sequel of this book. I would love to see what happens to Delilah and her love. Unfortunately, I don't know if there are plans to continue this story.


  

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

TLC Book Tours: The Sweetest Thing and Country Loving by Cathy Woodman

Today I have two great books to tell you about from Cathy Woodman's Talyton St. George series. Both books are perfect for when you are looking for some cute, light reading.

Title: The Sweetest Thing
Author: Cathy Woodman
Format: Paperback
Publisher: Arrow
Publish Date: April 28, 2011
Source: TLC Book Tours


What's the Story?:

From Goodreads.com: "If only everything in life was as simple as baking a cake...Jennie Copeland thought she knew the recipe for a happy life: marriage to her university sweetheart, a nice house in the suburbs and three beautiful children. But when her husband leaves her, she is forced to find a different recipe. And she thinks she's found just what she needs: a ramshackle house on the outskirts of the beautiful Talyton St George, a new cake-baking business, a dog, a horse, chickens...But life in the country is not quite as idyllic as she'd hoped, and Jennie can't help wondering whether neighbouring farmer Guy Barnes was right when he told her she wouldn't last the year. Or perhaps the problem is that she's missing one vital ingredient to make her new life a success. Could Guy be the person to provide it?"

My Two Cents:

"The Sweetest Thing" is a super cute tale of Jennie and her family who move to the country to start their lives over after Jennie's marriage ends. I really enjoyed this tale. Jennie has to re-build her life and the book shows how she goes about that. The small community that she moves to is in the middle of nowhere in England. Everyone knows everyone and not everyone is so welcoming to Jennie and her family since they are the newcomers. Will they ever be able to find their place?

Although this book is part of a series, you can most definitely read it without having read any of the other books. Although, I think if the other books are anything like this one or Country Loving, which I also read, I would really like to go back and read the other books. This book and Country Loving definitely made nice, cozy reads.

I really liked Jennie's character. She has a lot going on with trying to get her children settled in this new little town. Her kids are not too happy to be in this small little town. Needless to say, Jennie has a lot going on. In order to get settled, she decides to start up a small bake shop. I am a total foodie so I absolutely loved reading about how Jennie was able to set up a bake shop. I also really liked reading about all of the delicious things that she baked!

Overall, I really enjoyed this book! I look forward to getting back to the world of Talyton St. George in the future!






Title: Country Loving
Author: Cathy Woodman
Format: Paperback
Publisher: Arrow
Publish Date: August 1, 2013
Source: TLC Book Tours





What's the Story?:

From Goodreads.com: "
Successful city accountant Stevie receives two surprises in one week. A proposal of marriage from her boyfriend and a phone call begging her to return to the family farm in Talyton St George.

But what she thought would be a weekend visit turns into much longer as she struggles to bring order to her father's rundown farm. Finally, she decides to give up her job - and her boyfriend - and stay permanently. Even though the locals are up in arms about her plans for the farm, Stevie loves being back in the country - and having to work so closely with local vet Leo is an added bonus."

My Two Cents:

"Country Loving" is the sixth book in the Talyton St. George series by Cathy Woodman. As with some of the other books in this series, each book is a standalone book so there is no need to read the other books before you read this one. This is a cute series with memorable characters.

Stevie is a full-fledged city girl about town. She makes her home in London. She has a good job, a sweet apartment, and a wonderful boyfriend (at least he looks pretty wonderful on paper). Stevie goes back to her small hometown to help out her father and gets a lot more than she bargained for. We also get to see how she is struggling with whether she wants her glam city life or if she can make a life out in the country.

This storyline is slightly more intricate than "The Sweetest Thing," which I really liked. Stevie is coming to terms with her relationship with her father who is devastated after his wife and Stevie's mother dies. There is also a focus on Stevie's relationship with her London boyfriend and her new found relationship with Leo, Talyton St. George's handsome vet. I loved following Stevie through all of her different trials and tribulations as she makes her new life.

Overall, this was a great light read!


 
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