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Monday, June 26, 2017

Review: The Midnight Rose by Lucinda Riley

Title: The Midnight Rose
Author: Lucinda Riley 
Format: Paperback
Publisher: Atria Books
Publish Date: March 2014
Source: Library



What's the Story?:

From Goodreads.com: "In the heyday of the British Raj, eleven-year-old Anahita, from a noble but impoverished family, forms a lifelong friendship with the headstrong Princess Indira, the privileged daughter of Indian royalty. As the princess's official companion, Anahita accompanies her friend to England just before the outbreak of World War I. There, she meets young Donald Astbury—reluctant heir to the magnificent, remote Astbury Estate—and his scheming mother.

Ninety years later, Rebecca Bradley, a young American film star, has the world at her feet. But when her turbulent relationship with her equally famous boyfriend takes an unexpected turn, she's relieved that her latest role, playing a 1920s debutante, will take her away from the glare of publicity to a distant corner of the English countryside. Shortly after filming begins at the now-crumbling Astbury Hall, Ari Malik, Anahita's great-grandson, arrives unexpectedly, on a quest for his family's past. What he and Rebecca discover begins to unravel the dark secrets that haunt the Astbury dynasty . . ."


My Two Cents:

"The Midnight Rose" is the story of Anahita, a young girl who has the fortune of being taken in under the wing of Princess Indira, a daughter of Indian royalty. Even thought Anahita is not a princess, she goes where the Princess goes, which means her life is open to many more possibilities than other girls of her time and social stature. Almost 100 years later, film star Rebecca is filming in an old English manor. The residents of the manor seem to be hiding a secret that Rebecca will unravel before she leaves. Told in two different times, this book is filled with twists, turns, and family secrets.

Historical fiction books set in two times are often a mixed bag for me. Typically, I end up liking the story set in the past but not the one set in the present because so much of the present story falls back on the past story and would seem rather flat without it. This book is definitely not that way. The present story still has a lot of twists and turns that have very little to do with the story set in the past. This made the present day story feel much more exciting to me. It also made the story feel more balanced.

The book is set between India and England, two places that I love to read about. The author gives really good descriptions of both places - this is the kind of book that you get lost in. I especially loved the description of Anahita growing up in India. There are so many good descriptions of the court and what it was like to live at court. Anahita follows the princess to school in England and I loved the descriptions of how different both of them find England and how both of them deal with the differences. In the present day, the descriptions of the manor and the secret that it hides are fantastic. Anahita has a love affair with an English gentleman in the past story that will drive the mystery at hand in the present day story.

This book kept me on my toes and I love the way the author was able to bring everything together in a nice, neat way by the end of the book. This is a solid choice for historical fiction lovers!


 

Friday, June 23, 2017

Review: Brooklyn by Colm Tóibín

Title: Brooklyn
Author: Colm Tóibín
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: Scribner
Publish Date: April 29, 2009

Source: Library



What's the Story?:

From Goodreads.com: "
Eilis Lacey has come of age in small-town Ireland in the hard years following World War Two. When an Irish priest from Brooklyn offers to sponsor Eilis in America -- to live and work in a Brooklyn neighborhood "just like Ireland" -- she decides she must go, leaving her fragile mother and her charismatic sister behind.

Eilis finds work in a department store on Fulton Street, and when she least expects it, finds love. Tony, who loves the Dodgers and his big Italian family, slowly wins her over with patient charm. But just as Eilis begins to fall in love with Tony, devastating news from Ireland threatens the promise of her future."

My Two Cents:

"Brooklyn" is a book that I started a couple years ago and couldn't finish. I don't exactly remember why I didn't finish it but initially but I couldn't quite get into the book. I picked it up again after having seen the movie about a year ago. This time I enjoyed the story a little bit more.

In this book, Eilis is a young woman who leaves behind everything she knows in Ireland to go to New York City in the 1950s. She leaves her tightknit family behind and isn't sure how long she'll be able to connect with them after she leaves. Most of the book is involved with Eilis learning to be by herself and to come into her own.

She has to navigate her new country and brand-new city and make several stumbles along the way. She has dreams of doing something more than working in the store where she works and isn't sure she'll be able to find anything better in America. She ends up falling in love with an Italian and is torn between her old world and her new world. You feel for her plight throughout the book.

I think one of the things about this book that may have turned me off the first time is that even with all that happens in the book, it's still a relatively quiet book and a bit predictable. There are some turns and we do get to see how Eilis changes and grows throughout her journey. The changing definitely kept me a little bit more engaged. Overall, this was nice take on an immigrant story.










Thursday, June 22, 2017

Review: The Invisible Life of Ivan Isaenko by Scott Stambach

Title: The Invisible Life of Ivan Isaenko
Author: Scott Stambach
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Publish Date: August 6, 2016
Source: Library



What's the Story?:

From Goodreads.com: "Seventeen-year-old Ivan Isaenko is a life-long resident of the Mazyr Hospital for Gravely Ill Children in Belarus. For the most part, every day is exactly the same for Ivan, which is why he turns everything into a game, manipulating people and events around him for his own amusement.

Until Polina arrives. 

She steals his books. She challenges his routine. The nurses like her. 

She is exquisite. Soon, he cannot help being drawn to her and the two forge a romance that is tenuous and beautiful and everything they never dared dream of. Before, he survived by being utterly detached from things and people. Now, Ivan wants something more: Ivan wants Polina to live."

My Two Cents:

"The Invisible Life of Ivan Isaenko" is the story of Ivan, a teen born with physical disabilities and in Belarus, physical disabilities often force parents to give up their children so his home is the hospital he has lived in long term. He's bored. He's angry. He hates the hospital and wants to leave until he meets Polina, a gravely ill teen who changes Ivan's outlook and gives him something to hope and live for. This book is along the same lines as "The Fault in Our Stars" but is more stark and harsh. 

Both the characters of Ivan and Polina are what really make this book. Even though Ivan spends most of his time causing chaos in the beginning of the book before Polina makes her appearance, you fall for him. The author is able to easily elicit feelings of wanting something better for Ivan, for his circumstances to be different. Polina is a bright light that seems to take her diagnosis in stride. Ivan is the natural king of the hospital but Polina isn't afraid to challenge him and shake his world up. 

I love reading books set in places that I don't know a lot about. This book gives us an introduction to Belarus. Ivan has physical disabilities caused by his parents being exposed to the Chernobyl explosion. Although that explosion happened in Ukraine, much of the toxic air blew into Belarus and affected many people there. This book gives readers a look into how that country is coping with the people affected as well as the sad situation of many of the hospitals there.

I enjoyed this book. Although parts of it are dark, the main message seems to be to look for the beauty even in dark times and even if it is fleeting. Not a bad message!


Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Book to Movie: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

There are some books that you recommend over and over and over again. A couple years, that book for me was "The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks." It's a great non-fiction book about the woman behind the infamous HeLa cells, which have helped scientists do everything from create vaccines to create new treatments. It was the first immortal human cell line, developed way back in the 1950s. It is used worldwide still to this day. Now because cells come from humans, HeLa had to come from somewhere and it came from an African American woman named Henrietta Lacks, who had no idea that her story would live on this way as the cells may have been taken without her permission

It is a fantastic story and it has been turned into a movie by HBO. I am so happy that I got the chance to watch it!






The movie stars Oprah Winfrey as Henrietta Lacks' daughter who is still not sure what her mother's legacy really means. It also stars Rose Byrne as Rebecca Skloot, the author who wrote "The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks." The book does focus on Lacks' family but it really doesn't focus on Skloot and how she wrote the book. The movie does focus on the making of the book, which I really enjoyed. 

Skloot has to go through a lot to gain the trust of the Lacks family. They are very distrustful of anyone that comes around asking about there mother. Rightfully so as any time anyone comes around, they seem to be interested in making a buck off the family. They still feel that they are owed something as their mother's cells are still being used so widely.

The movie explores the complicated relationship between science and race and between people being uneducated about certain subjects and how others take advantage of that when they should know better. I loved the movie's treatment of all of that! 

The acting in the movie is really good. Although Skloot does talk about what Henrietta was like, you get a much better sense of who she was as a person through the movie, which I loved. Throughout the movie, there are flashbacks to when Henrietta was alive and when she got diagnosed with cancer. We also get a good sense of who her family is and what her family has been through. I loved the intersection between science and the personal way that it can affect people. 

This was a great movie and I fully recommend it! Thanks to ThinkJam and HBO for a copy in exchange for my honest review!

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

TLC Book Tours: News of the World by Paulette Jiles

Title: News of the World
Author:



HarperCollins






Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd travels through northern Texas, giving live readings from newspapers to paying audiences hungry for news of the world. An elderly widower who has lived through three wars and fought in two of them, the captain enjoys his rootless, solitary existence.

In Wichita Falls, he is offered a $50 gold piece to deliver a young orphan to her relatives in San Antonio. Four years earlier, a band of Kiowa raiders killed Johanna’s parents and sister; sparing the little girl, they raised her as one of their own. Recently rescued by the U.S. army, the ten-year-old has once again been torn away from the only home she knows.

Their 400-mile journey south through unsettled territory and unforgiving terrain proves difficult and at times dangerous. Johanna has forgotten the English language, tries to escape at every opportunity, throws away her shoes, and refuses to act “civilized.” Yet as the miles pass, the two lonely survivors tentatively begin to trust each other, forming a bond that marks the difference between life and death in this treacherous land.

Arriving in San Antonio, the reunion is neither happy nor welcome. The captain must hand Johanna over to an aunt and uncle she does not remember—strangers who regard her as an unwanted burden. A respectable man, Captain Kidd is faced with a terrible choice: abandon the girl to her fate or become—in the eyes of the law—a kidnapper himself."


My Two Cents:

In "News of the World," Captain Kidd is a news reader. He brings the news of the world to the people of Texas who otherwise may never know what is going on in the world. To some degree, he enjoys his solitude as he travels from place to place. His world is up-ended when he is asked to return a young girl, Joanna, to her family many years after she was stolen away from members of the Kiowa tribe.

The relationship between Captain Kidd and Joanna is at the center of this book. They develop a really amazing friendship that illustrates why our connections to other people are so important as we make our way in the world. No man is an island and we get so much out of interacting with others as the Captain and Joanna show in this book. Joanna doesn't speak much English at all so Captain Kidd dedicates himself to trying to teach her all sorts of different words so she will be ready to go back to her family. While teaching her words, he teaches her a lot about the way the world works and she becomes fascinated with his work and gives him the support that he didn't realize he was missing.

This is a very quietly written story that packs a big punch. For history and historical fiction lovers, it gives a lot of insight into the time period in the United States just after the Civil War. The country is still trying to rebuild as it expands westward. Texas is the proverbial "wild west" with outlaws and bandits and very few restrictions as we see with some of the things that happen to Joanna and Captain Kidd throughout the book. This is a great historical fiction!


Monday, June 19, 2017

Review: The Voice of America: Lowell Thomas and the Invention of 20th-Century Journalism by Mitchell Stephens

Title: The Voice of America: Lowell Thomas and the Invention of 20th-Century Journalism
Author: Mitchell Stephens
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Publish Date: June 20, 2017
Source: Publisher



What's the Story?:

From Goodreads.com: "Few Americans today recognize his name, but Lowell Thomas was as well known in his time as any American journalist ever has been. Raised in a Colorado gold-rush town, Thomas covered crimes and scandals for local then Chicago newspapers. He began lecturing on Alaska, after spending eight days in Alaska. Then he assigned himself to report on World War I and returned with an exclusive: the story of "Lawrence of Arabia."

In 1930, Lowell Thomas began delivering America's initial radio newscast. His was the trusted voice that kept Americans abreast of world events in turbulent decades - his face familiar, too, as the narrator of the most popular newsreels. His contemporaries were also dazzled by his life. In a prime-time special after Thomas died in 1981, Walter Cronkite said that Thomas had "crammed a couple of centuries worth of living" into his eighty-nine years. Thomas delighted in entering "forbidden" countries--Tibet, for example, where he met the teenaged Dalai Lama. The Explorers Club has named its building, its awards, and its annual dinner after him.

Journalists in the last decades of the twentieth century--including Cronkite and Tom Brokaw--acknowledged a profound debt to Thomas. Though they may not know it, journalists today too are following a path he blazed. In The Voice of America, Mitchell Stephens offers a hugely entertaining, sometimes critical portrait of this larger than life figure."


My Two Cents:

"The Voice of America" is the story of Lowell Thomas, a journalist whose life seemed to follow the news through its different forms of presentation: paper, radio, television. He was once the most well-known journalist in the U.S., truly the Voice of America, well before the likes of Walter Cronkite and Tom Brokaw.

It's no secret that there are a lot of questions about journalism and media these days. Have a certain opinion? There is probably a news outlet or "news outlet" that will cater to your opinion without making you think critically or examine your beliefs. Back when Lowell Thomas first started writing, he was very much interested in giving people the "just the facts, ma'am" treatment of the news in a thorough yet entertaining way. He is the journalist that brought us the story of Lawrence of Arabia (frankly, I don't think I knew that was a true story before this book)! As you get to see in the book, he was not afraid of getting his hands dirty and going to the places where the news was being made.

I also found it fascinating how his career spanned the different popular news resources of the 20th century. He first wrote his stories before moving on to the radio. The way that the author shows how his career changed as the medium changed was fascinating. The author gives a lot of detail of how Thomas was able to continue to be relevant for decades by adapting to new technology while still telling good stories.

This book was fascinating! Although I never lived through those times truly, this book made me long for the day of news based on what was actually happening rather than a talking head's lens of what was happening. This is a good pick for history lovers!


 

Friday, June 16, 2017

Author Interview: Kate Quinn, Author of The Alice Network

I am very excited to welcome Kate Quinn to A Bookish Affair today. As you can see from my review yesterday, I loved her latest release "The Alice Network." Now she's here!



  1. "The Alice Network" takes place in the 20th century, a new time for you. What drew you to write about World War I and the period just after World War II?

I love ancient Rome and Renaissance Italy, where my previous six novels are set, and I'd love to write more books there someday, but I've always had ideas for stories in a wide array of historical periods. When I saw the huge recent boom in popularity for 20th century war fiction, it made sense to revisit some of those old plot ideas, and see if anything grabbed my imagination. It did! And when in my reading I came across the Alice Network—a ring of World War I informants in German-occupied France, many of them female, run by a petite Frenchwoman whose skill and success earned her the nickname “The Queen of Spies”—I knew I had to tell that story.

2. A little birdy told me that you were able to get your hands on some pretty cool research for this book. Can you tell us about some of the sources you were able to look while writing?

I'm lucky enough to count among my good friends a multi-lingual history buff named Anna who is my go-to source whenever I need language assistance. She has family ties in both Germany and France, and was thrilled when I started writing "The Alice Network" since her French ancestors come from the Lille area where much of the book is set. Anna had great-great-uncles and aunts who endured the German occupation in World War I, and she knew her French relatives were just starting to go through the family papers and archives. She translated old letters for me over time; we were only hoping to find period detail about wartime life under German rule, but eventually we found something much better: several of Anna's ancestors not only knew the Queen of Spies, but very probably helped in the Alice Network! It was a thrilling bit of research, and with the family's permission I wove several of their ancestors into the book as minor characters. 

3. Who is your favorite character in the book and why?
I love my heroine Eve as she appears in the 1947 timeline: a former soldier and spy who swears like a sailor, drinks like a fish, and drops sarcastic bon mots everywhere she goes. I love writing battleaxe women with biting wit.

4. What scene was the most fun to write?
The scene where a very smart, very arrogant villain finally realizes how thoroughly he has been fooled by a woman he has fatally underestimated. I took a glorious satisfaction in wiping the smug look off his face on the page.

5. Can you tell us what's next for you?
I'm working on another dual timeline story focused around World War II. Tentatively titled "Darkroom," it involves a hunt for Nazi war criminals in post-war America, and the incredible true story of the female Russian bomber pilots known as the Night Witches...

6. If you could bring three people, fictional or non-fictional, with you to a deserted island, who would you bring and why?
My husband, because he has survival skills. Homer's Odysseus, because he could easily McGyver all of us off a desert island given time. And Siri, because once off the island, neither Odysseus nor my husband nor I can be relied upon for directions. 

Thursday, June 15, 2017

TLC Book Tours: The Alice Network by Kate Quinn

Title: The Alice Network
Author: Kate Quinn
Format: ARC
Publisher: William Morrow
Publish Date: June 6, 2017
Source: TLC Book Tours and HarperCollins






What's the Story?:

From Goodreads.com: "1947. In the chaotic aftermath of World War II, American college girl Charlie St. Clair is pregnant, unmarried, and on the verge of being thrown out of her very proper family. She's also nursing a desperate hope that her beloved cousin Rose, who disappeared in Nazi-occupied France during the war, might still be alive. So when Charlie's parents banish her to Europe to have her "little problem" taken care of, Charlie breaks free and heads to London, determined to find out what happened to the cousin she loves like a sister.

1915. A year into the Great War, Eve Gardiner burns to join the fight against the Germans and unexpectedly gets her chance when she's recruited to work as a spy. Sent into enemy-occupied France, she's trained by the mesmerizing Lili, the "Queen of Spies", who manages a vast network of secret agents right under the enemy's nose.

Thirty years later, haunted by the betrayal that ultimately tore apart the Alice Network, Eve spends her days drunk and secluded in her crumbling London house. Until a young American barges in uttering a name Eve hasn't heard in decades, and launches them both on a mission to find the truth ...no matter where it leads.
"


My Two Cents:

"The Alice Network" is the story of two women. There is Charlie in 1947, a young woman who goes to England to begin searching for her missing cousin. Eve is a young woman in 1915 who becomes a spy during World War I as a part of the infamous Alice Network. Both of these women are haunted by ghosts. In Charlie's case, it is her beloved cousin Rose who is missing without a trace. Eve is haunted by Lili, the leader of the Alice Network. Both women desperately believe they may be able to change the outcome for Rose and Lili. This is a stunning story that has so many twists and turns. The way that Charlie and Eve's stories intertwine with each other is fantastic.

It's hard to know where to start with a book like this. There's no wrong place so I'll start with the standard - characters! The characters in this book are fantastic. Charlie is headstrong and committed to finding Rose even when Rose's family has seemingly given up. She is indecisive about keeping her baby even though she really doesn't know who the father is. As the story goes on, we see her mettle and what she is really made of. As a reader, it was so great to see this transformation. When we meet Eve in 1947, she is a grumpy old woman who seems quite bitter and really ready to be done with it. As the story unfolds, we see what led up to this. We see what transformed her from an unsure girl who seems relatively happy into an old woman who can't seem to find happiness anywhere. And these are only our two main characters! The supporting characters are amazing too. One thing that I love about Kate Quinn's books is that all of the characters, main and secondary, are so detailed and so stand out! They quickly begin to feel like people that you could possibly know in real life.

The story is filled with fantastic historical details. While many characters in the story are fictional or based on a collection of people, there are a lot of characters that are real like Lili. Her story as a spy during WWI is fascinating. I loved how the author went into some detail about how spying was done during WWI. That being said, with as much historical detail as there is, it never feels like the book is a laundry list of cool historical facts. They are truly woven throughout the story, which makes for a really rich read.

Perhaps one of the biggest marks of a great book for me is when I am alternating between reading as fast as I can because I have to see what happens and reading oh so slowly so the book doesn't end. It was hard to decide what to do. In the end, this book is one to savor. You savor the connection between all of the different characters. You savor the rich detail. You savor the ways the that events happen and how they are connected throughout the book. All of it is meant to be savored (as hard as it was for me to do that). This is such a good book and I have a feeling that it is quickly going to become one of my favorites to recommend to other people!


 

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Review: The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman

Title: The Light Between Oceans
Author: M.L. Stedman 
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: Scribner
Publish Date: July 30, 2012
Source: Library



What's the Story?:

From Goodreads.com: "After four harrowing years on the Western Front, Tom Sherbourne returns to Australia and takes a job as the lighthouse keeper on Janus Rock, nearly half a day’s journey from the coast. To this isolated island, where the supply boat comes once a season and shore leaves are granted every other year at best, Tom brings a young, bold, and loving wife, Isabel. Years later, after two miscarriages and one stillbirth, the grieving Isabel hears a baby’s cries on the wind. A boat has washed up onshore carrying a dead man and a living baby. 

Tom, whose records as a lighthouse keeper are meticulous and whose moral principles have withstood a horrific war, wants to report the man and infant immediately. But Isabel has taken the tiny baby to her breast. Against Tom’s judgment, they claim her as their own and name her Lucy. When she is two, Tom and Isabel return to the mainland and are reminded that there are other people in the world. Their choice has devastated one of them. 

My Two Cents:

"The Light Between Oceans" is a historical fiction book that takes place in Australia. A couple is charged with keeping the lighthouse functioning on an island. It's just Isabel and Tom and no one else. Isabel longs for a baby but is not having any luck conceiving so when a boat washes up on the shore with a dead man and a baby, it seems like fate has brought the couple the baby that they long for. Isabel instantly takes to the baby even as Tom has misgivings about not trying to find the baby's family. The story follows what happens after Tom and Isabel try to raise the baby. 

I really liked the setting of this book. Australia is not someplace that I seem to get to visit a lot in my reading. I did like the isolation of the setting and the way that the author described it. The setting and the lighthouse almost become other characters in the book. You wonder if Isabel would act the way she is acting and would hide the secrets that she was hiding if she and Tom were among other people.

The characters in the book are fascinating to me. In a way this book feels like a psychological study of two people who are trying to do what they feel is right. Isabel believes that keeping the child is automatically correct. And she pushes her view on Tom. Tom goes along with it. The book explores the fallout of that decision. This was a good read that kept me on my toes waiting to see what would happen to these characters.


Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Review: The Space Between the Stars by Anne Corlett

Title: The Space Between the Stars
Author: Anne Corlett
Format: ARC
Publisher: Berkley
Publish Date: June 13, 2017 (Today!)
Source: Publisher



What's the Story?:

From Goodreads.com: "All Jamie Allenby ever wanted was space. Even though she wasn’t forced to emigrate from Earth, she willingly left the overpopulated, claustrophobic planet. And when a long relationship devolved into silence and suffocating sadness, she found work on a frontier world on the edges of civilization. Then the virus hit...

Now Jamie finds herself dreadfully alone, with all that’s left of the dead. Until a garbled message from Earth gives her hope that someone from her past might still be alive. 

Soon Jamie finds other survivors, and their ragtag group will travel through the vast reaches of space, drawn to the promise of a new beginning on Earth. But their dream will pit them against those desperately clinging to the old ways. And Jamie’s own journey home will help her close the distance between who she has become and who she is meant to be..."

What's the Story?:

"The Space Between the Stars" is the story of Jamie, a woman who survives an illness that kills 99.9% of humans. Her almost solitary quiet existence on a distant planetary outpost is suddenly too solitary and she finds herself alone and trying to find other survivors. She teams up with a band of survivors who first travel to a planet where they may not be welcome as survivors of the outbreak and there is a plan to repopulate using forced breeding.  They eventually travel back to Earth where she will have to make a choice between a new future and a grasp back to some thread of the past. This is a thought-provoking sci fi/ dystopian story that I enjoyed!

Although this story has sci-fi and dystopian elements, it is still very much a character driven story. Most of the focus is on our main character, Jamie. We find out that she is still haunted by her ex-lover and by a miscarriage. She wonders if she will ever get another chance to make amends and if she does get to make amends is it to try to go back to the way they once were or is it to make amends to find peace. Jamie will have to decide this for herself. We the readers get a good look at her thought process and how she goes about trying to figure out what she wants. To some degree, this book almost feels like a spiritual journey for Jamie. 

We learn a lot about Jamie and the other survivors that include a priest and a scientist.  The differences between all of the survivors were really interesting to me. We see how each of them views the new world and their place in the new world differently and the perspectives are definitely interesting.

I liked some of the concepts in the book. Yeah, the epidemic has been done before a lot but what makes this one different is the idea of interplanetary epidemics added to the very different worlds that people can choose from. For instance, Jamie comes from a place called Solitaire that doesn't really have many people before the epidemic in contrast to how Earth is at the time. I did wish for more detail on things like how the different places came to be and why they are the way that they are. More back story would have been nice but overall, this was still a satisfying character driven story.


Monday, June 12, 2017

Review: Hold Back The Stars by Katie Khan

Title: Hold Back The Stars
Author: Katie Khan 
Format: ARC
Publisher: Doubleday
Publish Date: May 23, 2017
Source: Publisher




What's the Story?:

From Goodreads.com: "After the catastrophic destruction of the Middle East and the United States, Europe has become a utopia and, every three years, the European population must rotate into different multicultural communities, living as individuals responsible for their own actions. While living in this paradise, Max meets Carys and immediately feels a spark of attraction. He quickly realizes, however, that Carys is someone he might want to stay with long-term, which is impossible in this new world.

As their relationship plays out, the connections between their time on Earth and their present dilemma in space become clear. When their air ticks dangerously low, one is offered the chance of salvation—but who will take it? An original and daring exploration of the impact of first love and how the choices we make can change the fate of everyone around us, this is an unforgettable read."


My Two Cents:

"Hold Back the Stars" is the story of Carys and Max, two star-crossed lovers who live in a world that is supposed to be a utopian world. Earth has been broken up into regions and every certain number of years, everyone in the world switches in order to be more equal. Youth and younger years are supposed to be dedicated to finding and building yourself. Love and family is supposed to be confined to the later years. Max and Carys meet too young and against all odds, they plan to stick together and continue to be in love.

When the book opens, Carys and Max are trapped in space drifting away from their broken spaceship. They have a limited amount of oxygen before they will die in space. The book flashes back and forth between the present and the duration of the meeting and subsequent relationship between Carys and Max. The back and forth works really well through about 2/3 of the book. We see why Carys and Max are longing for things to have been different in their world when their relationship was unfolding. We see that even utopias are not always utopias for everyone. I don't want to give anything away but there are multiple endings and this really confuses the story. It was an interesting choice but it almost left me wanting more closure even though you get various kinds of closure through the multiple endings. It almost watered things down for me.

The world building in this book was good. The concept of Earth being broken down into regions to promote equality was interesting. I wish that the author had included more information about which regions covered which places. I also wanted to understand more about people not being able to have serious relationships until they are established. Both concepts are interesting and kept me engaged but I wanted more detail.

Overall, this book was a good read but I wanted more detail and more solidity in the ending.



Friday, June 9, 2017

Review: The Idea of You by Robinne Lee

Title: The Idea of You
Author: Robinne Lee
Format: Ebook
Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin
Publish Date: June 13, 2017 (Next Week!)
Source: Publisher



What's the Story?:

From Goodreads.com: "When Solène Marchand, the thirty-nine-year-old owner of a prestigious art gallery in Los Angeles, takes her daughter, Isabelle, to meet her favorite boy band, she does so reluctantly and at her ex-husband’s request. The last thing she expects is to make a connection with one of the members of the world-famous August Moon. But Hayes Campbell is clever, winning, confident, and posh, and the attraction is immediate. That he is all of twenty years old further complicates things.

What begins as a series of clandestine trysts quickly evolves into a passionate relationship. It is a journey that spans continents as Solène and Hayes navigate each other’s disparate worlds: from stadium tours to international art fairs to secluded hideaways. And for Solène, it is as much a reclaiming of self, as it is a rediscovery of happiness and love. When their romance becomes a viral sensation, and both she and her daughter become the target of rabid fans and an insatiable media, Solène must face how her new status has impacted not only her life, but the lives of those closest to her."


My Two Cents:

In "The Idea of You," Solene is a successful art gallery owner who is trying to navigate her divorce and remain amicable with her ex, her daughter's father. He's definitely not helping between his upgraded model of a girlfriend and always cutting out on plans he makes with his daughter. So when he can't take Isabelle to a concert in Las Vegas of her favorite boy band, it falls to Solene to shuttle her and her friends to the concert. Little does Solene know that the concert and the meet and greet where she meets one of the boy banders, Hayes will change her life.

This was such a fun romance! Solene can't believe she is suddenly dating someone who is only 20 but seems familiar with a world that she doesn't really know. She figures that it's going to be a fling and she can't believe when he wants more. Jetsetting from here to there, Solene's life is turned upside down and she isn't sure she is made for Hayes' lifestyle.

The chemistry between Hayes and Solene was great. It was very realistic and I loved that Hayes was so sure of himself and so romantic. The chemistry also felt very realistic. Although Solene really likes him, she holds back a little at first, which felt more real to me and much better than insta-love that often plagues romances.

This is the kind of book that you read when you want to relax with a (classy - classy like Solene) cocktail and be thrilled with a story of jet-set romance!


 

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Review: I Change Worlds: The Remaking of an American by Anna Louise Strong

Title: The Remaking of an American
Author: Anna Louise Strong
Format: Hardcover
Publish Date: 1935
Source: Library



My Two Cents:

"I Change Worlds" is the memoir of Anna Louise Strong, an American who left the country to go live in the Soviet Union because it aligned with her ideals. She has a very idealized view of the changes brought in the 1920s and 1930s in the Soviet Union. Being an American born in the waning years of the Cold War, this was such an interesting perspective to read about. 

Even after the Cold War, the idea that people would leave the relative comfort of the United States for the Soviet Union is strange - this isn't what we typically focus on or even mention in history classes. Our history classes still seem to have a fairly rose-colored view of our country without accounting for many differing opinions. This book is one of those differing opinions. Strong is initially very hopeful for the improvement of working conditions in the USSR. She witnesses Stalin's various plans to shake various countries into production and growth. It was fascinating to see her perspective on what was going on.

Strong is also a journalist and her job takes her places that were not necessarily open to women or Americans at the time. It shed a lot of light on what it would have been like to be a person living during this time. She has some really interesting experiences in the book. At one point, she goes back to the U.S. to have conversations with Henry Ford about investing in the USSR (I did not ever realize that the USSR was so interested in investment. She talks about the American companies that would or would not invest in the USSR (it's a fascinating list. Ford entertained it. House of Morgan refused)! She also gets to meet directly with Stalin after making a complaint about her work and in the book, she calls him one of the easiest people in the world to talk to (but was he really??? that's not ever a description I've heard associated with Stalin). 

I love when books make you question what you do and do not know. This book gave a perspective that I never had thought about before and definitely made me think about just how different points of view can really be!


Wednesday, June 7, 2017

TLC Book Tours: The Gypsy Moth Summer by Julia Fierro

Title: The Gypsy Moth Summer
Author: Julia Fierro
Format: ARC
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Publish Date: June 6, 2017 (Yesterday!)
Source: TLC Book Tours



What's the Story?:

From Goodreads.com: "It is also the summer Leslie Day Marshall—only daughter of Avalon’s most prominent family—returns with her husband, a botanist, and their children to live in “The Castle,” the island's grandest estate. Leslie’s husband Jules is African-American, and their children bi-racial, and islanders from both sides of the tracks form fast and dangerous opinions about the new arrivals.

Maddie Pencott LaRosa straddles those tracks: a teen queen with roots in the tony precincts of East Avalon and the crowded working class corner of West Avalon, home to Grudder Aviation factory, the island's bread-and-butter and birthplace of generations of bombers and war machines. Maddie falls in love with Brooks, Leslie’s and Jules’ son, and that love feels as urgent to Maddie as the questions about the new and deadly cancers showing up across the island. Could Grudder Aviation, the pride of the island—and its patriarch, the Colonel—be to blame? 

As the gypsy moths burst from cocoons in flocks that seem to eclipse the sun, Maddie’s and Brooks’ passion for each other grows and she begins planning a life for them off Avalon Island"

My Two Cents:

In "The Gypsy Moth Summer," the characters are struggling not only with a bug infestation but a chain of events that threatens to upend all of their lives. There is Maddie, a teenage girl trying to fit in at school and falling in love with someone that her family doesn't approve of. He is Brooks, the son of Leslie, a woman returning to Avalon Island after being all but banished because of her own relationship with her African American husband, Jules, who just wants to save the gorgeous, unruly garden at Leslie's family home. The island is also home to Grudder Aviation, which has been the economic engine of the island but may also now be causing diseases on the island. And these are just a few of the story lines that the author tries to tackle in this ambitious book. There is a lot going on in this book!

This book has a huge cast of characters, mainly Maddie's family (to include grandparents) and Brook's family. Maddie's family represents the old guard of the island. Her grandfather is one of the major players in Grudder Aviation and may have had a hand in the factory now causing diseases. Her grandmother is torn between duty and honor and she cannot decide what is more important or if she can atone for what she feels is her part in what is happening on the island. Brook's family represents Avalon Island's new future. His parents play a prominent role in the major event/ turning point of the book.  A big cast like this can be problematic when there is too little space to thoroughly explore the characters as is the case in this book. For instance, Maddie's parents (mother in particular) have some pretty interesting issues that are never fully addressed and left me with a lot of questions.

While the story lines are interesting and the author's words are often gorgeous, my attention became too divided by the sheer number of story lines and the book did not feel cohesive. All of this being said, the writing is good. The author has a great way of writing very vivid scenes that kept me in the story. I liked how each chapter began with a connection to the gypsy moths that play another character in the book. I would love to see what else the author does in the future!


Tuesday, June 6, 2017

TLC Book Tours: The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry

Title: The Essex Serpent
Author: Sarah Perry
Format: ARC
Publisher: HarperCollins 
Publish Date: June 6, 2017 (Today!)
Source: TLC Book Tours and HarperCollins 






What's the Story?:

From Goodreads.com: "Set in Victorian London and an Essex village in the 1890's, and enlivened by the debates on scientific and medical discovery which defined the era, The Essex Serpent has at its heart the story of two extraordinary people who fall for each other, but not in the usual way.

They are Cora Seaborne and Will Ransome. Cora is a well-to-do London widow who moves to the Essex parish of Aldwinter, and Will is the local vicar. They meet as their village is engulfed by rumours that the mythical Essex Serpent, once said to roam the marshes claiming human lives, has returned. Cora, a keen amateur naturalist is enthralled, convinced the beast may be a real undiscovered species. But Will sees his parishioners' agitation as a moral panic, a deviation from true faith. Although they can agree on absolutely nothing, as the seasons turn around them in this quiet corner of England, they find themselves inexorably drawn together and torn apart."


My Two Cents:

In "The Essex Serpent," widow Cora escapes Victorian England for the countryside. She is seeking rest and recuperation from losing her husband. She wants to put her life back together again. The town where she settles is abuzz with news of the Essex Serpent, an unknown creature that feasts on humans. It sounds unbelievable at first but Cora is drawn up into the excitement and believes that the creature might truly be real!

It took me awhile to get into the story but it really picked up once we start getting to unravel the mystery of the serpent and to the relationship between Cora, who believes in the serpent, and William, who definitely does not believe. Their relationship is one where opposites truly attract. Although this is a well-visited trope, it works well for this relationship and felt very real to me. Cora is very independent and self-sufficient. She doesn't care if she doesn't play by the rules. William is seriously and would rather not step a toe out of line! You're pulling for them the whole time.

This book has a very gothic feel to it, which I loved. This feel came in mostly for me with the way that the author described London while Cora still lived there and then the coast once Cora leaves. You get a great sense of place and it makes the environment where the serpent supposedly is feel very eerie indeed! There were a few places where the book veered off into over description but for the most part, the descriptions added a lot to the tale.

Overall, this was a read that got off to a slow start but is atmospheric and off the beaten path!


 

Monday, June 5, 2017

Review: Grief Cottage by Gail Godwin

Title: Grief Cottage
Author: Gail Godwin
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: Bloomsbury
Publish Date: June 6, 2017 (Tomorrow!)
Source: Publisher



What's the Story?:

From Goodreads.com: "After his mother's death, eleven-year-old Marcus is sent to live on a small South Carolina island with his great aunt, a reclusive painter with a haunted past. Aunt Charlotte, otherwise a woman of few words, points out a ruined cottage, telling Marcus she had visited it regularly after she'd moved there thirty years ago because it matched the ruin of her own life. Eventually she was inspired to take up painting so she could capture its utter desolation.

The islanders call it -Grief Cottage, - because a boy and his parents disappeared from it during a hurricane fifty years before. Their bodies were never found and the cottage has stood empty ever since. During his lonely hours while Aunt Charlotte is in her studio painting and keeping her demons at bay, Marcus visits the cottage daily, building up his courage by coming ever closer, even after the ghost of the boy who died seems to reveal himself. Full of curiosity and open to the unfamiliar and uncanny given the recent upending of his life, he courts the ghost boy, never certain whether the ghost is friendly or follows some sinister agenda."


My Two Cents:

"Grief Cottage" is the story of Marcus, a boy who loses his mother and has to go live with the only family he has left, his mother's Aunt Charlotte. Aunt Charlotte lives on a small island in South Carolina and makes a tidy living as an artist. Marcus is sure that she doesn't want him there, not really but just as Marcus finds comfort in his great aunt, his great aunt finds comfort in him being there.

The characters are what really make the book. Marcus and Charlotte are two very different characters. Marcus is a very typical child having to deal with very difficult (and luckily atypical things). He desperately misses his mother and her love. He can't imagine rebuilding a life without her but is forced to in South Carolina. Charlotte is a quiet renegade of sorts. Anything she needs to do for her small beach shack, she learns how to do herself. When her independence is taking away from her after an accident, she has to figure out how to let herself let others do things for her. We see her true colors then. She is a complicated character with a lot of hidden pain and secrets that unfold slowly throughout the book. I loved the way that the author was able to slowly peel back the layers of both Charlotte and Marcus. What is on the surface is not always the truth. Our two main characters are great but the supporting characters also really make the story!

The island itself almost becomes a character as does the house named "Grief Cottage." Marcus explores his new island home thoroughly. He becomes obsessed with the almost-ruins of an old house on the shore where the story goes that a vacationing family was lost during a hurricane. Even though many adults warn him that the house could collapse at any moment, Marcus is drawn to it. He starts imagining things about the house and thinks he might see someone there. The house plays a major role at the height of the story line and as to not give anything away, I won't say much about what happens.

This is a great book for those who like family sagas, hidden secrets, and light ghost stories! This is perfect summer reading to get lost in!


 
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