Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Unthinkable - Richard Cibrano

Title: Unthinkable
Author: Richard Cibrano
Paperback: 400 pages
Publisher: Authorhouse
Published date: 2013
FTC: Received to review from Kelley and Hall Book Publicity

When I heard of Richard Cibrano's novel about the Titanic I knew I'd have to check it out. I've always been fascinated by the Titanic. I remember when the National Geographic came out in the 80's when they discovered the ship underwater. I couldn't even read but I remember flipping through the pages.  Then when I found out this novel contained the Pinkerton Detective Agency, Teddy Roosevelt and a conspiracy...come on!  Sign me up.  I had so much fun with this novel. I hope Mr Cibrano decides to write more novels staring Pinkerton agent Dimaio.  In fact, this would make an awesome series for BBC or PBS. 

Back of the book:

When detective Francis Dimaio, supervisor of the Pinkerton detective agency's Philadelphia bureau, read the telegram from Allan Pinkerton, ordering him to leave immediately for New York, he knew he would have to put off the vacation with his wife. What he couldn't have known was that he was about to open an investigation into the deaths of more than 1500 people.

A few days earlier, former president Theodore Roosevelt had arrived unexpectedly at Pinkerton's Broadway office. In his possession was a letter from his former aide and adviser, Major Archibald Butt. Butt, now the aide-de-camp for President Taft, had been returning to the United States on the Titanic after a round of diplomacy with the King of Italy, when he went down with the ship. In the letter, dated the day of the sailing, Butt wrote that a representative of the Italian Prime Minister approached him with knowledge of a stratagem to incite the world to the brink of war. Most alarming, the plot would involve the sinking of a passenger liner. The source of the tip further confided Titanic would be the logical target. Determined to uncover the facts behind the portentous warning, Roosevelt persuades Pinkerton to take on the case. Dimaio, a tenacious investigator whose resume includes tracking Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, accepts the assignment and quickly uncovers an elaborate insurance fraud involving Titanic and her sister ship Olympic. Working every angle, Dimaio discovers the fraud was double-edged, and as evidence begins to emerge that the plot is still in play, he and Pinkerton find themselves in a race against time with an ambitious financier, a ruthless agent from British Intelligence, and the cabal of powerful men working behind the scenes, hell-bent on seeing to completion their diabolical plans.

My thoughts:

I have to get this off my shoulder first. I'm not a fan of present tense narrative. For some reason it always takes my brain a bit to adjust to the different narrative. That said, by the end of the book I barely noticed it I was having so much fun with the story. 

Richard Cibrano did an amazing job weaving in historical facts and fictional what ifs.  What if Titanic was switched with the badly damaged Olympic as an attempt at massive insurance fraud.  What if people knew something was going to happen to the Titanic that voyage? I also adore books that have Teddy Roosevelt. He is such a fascinating character, such a larger than life figure. I'm also intrigued by the historic Pinkerton detective agency. I need to read more fiction and non-fiction books about them.

I ended up really loving the character of Dimaio. A historical figure himself, I adored his fictional persona Cibrano made up and his intriguing real life accomplishments. Seriously, some one HAS to make a series or movie on this guy. He went under cover in the mafia and chased Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid in South America. I wish there was more info out there on this guy. I also loved that Cibrano included the character of Rigel, the hero dog of the Titanic. Even if the story of Rigel was made up, I love the fictional Rigel of Cibrano's story. 

I'm hoping Richard Cibrano writes more stories of Dimaio.  I'd love to read one about the Butch Cassidy and Sundance Kid. 

Thursday, March 13, 2014

The House at Tyneford - Natasha Solomons

Title: The House at Tyneford
Author: Natasha Solomons
Paperback: 359 pages
Publisher: A Plume Book/Penguin
Published date: 2011
FTC: Library book sale

I love that the world has finally caught up to my love of Downton Abbey.  I've watched since Season One and my husband set aside Sunday nights so I could watch on PBS.  I'll admit that I haven't been as hooked this season...only have seen most of the first episode. That said I still love the era and the books that are set around one of Britian's imposing estates.  I also love WWII era books so I knew I'd enjoy The House at Tyneford.  I rarely give books a five star rating on Goodreads but this one definitely merited that rating.  Beautiful.

Back of the book:

It's the spring of 1938 and no longer safe to be a Jew in Vienna. Nineteen-year-old Elise Landau is forced to leave her glittering life of parties and champagne to become a parlour maid in England. She arrives at Tyneford, the great house on the bay, where servants polish silver and serve drinks on the lawn. But war is coming, and the world is changing. When the master of Tyneford's young son, Kit, returns home, he and Elise strike up an unlikely upstairs-downstairs friendship that will transform Tyneford - and Elise - forever.

My thoughts:

The story is what drew me into reading The House at Tyneford but it was the writing that made me fall in love with the book.  Solomons writes about the great house on the Dorset coast with such beauty that if I went to visit I would feel like I'd been there before.  There are some books that make me yearn to travel and visit their locations and this is definitely one. Tyneford house is a fictional place but Solomons based it on a real manor that was requisitioned during WWII.  This novel isn't just an ode to the men and women who fought and survived during WWII but an elegy to a way of life and an era that came crashing down because of the war.

The novels characters are also beautifully drawn.  As the youngest daughter of a wealthy Viennese family, Elise could have come off as irritatingly spoiled.  However, she is mourning the loss of her family and home all the while trying to daily do her job with a straight face as if her whole world isn't just crashing down around her. It's always interesting to me to learn new facets of WWII.  I had never heard of the "domestic service visa" which allowed affluent refugees to come to England and work.

While there is a love story or two in the novel, I definitely wouldn't consider this a romance book. It's a novel of WWII and a hauntingly beautiful ode to a bygone era.

Alternate covers:

As you know I love to check out alternate covers.  The House at Tyneford also goes by another name, The Novel in the Viola.  Elise is charged with taking a copy of her father's latest book, hidden in a viola.  While this is definitely a main part of the story, I think naming the novel after it is a bit confusing.  It only makes sense after reading the novel but I would think that a reader going into the story thinking it revolved around the novel in viola might be disappointed or confused.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

The Governess of Highland Hall - Carrie Turansky

Title: The Governess of Highland Hall
Author: Carrie Turansky
Paperback: 314 pages (ARC version)
Publisher: Multnomah Books
Published date: October 2013
FTC: Requested from Blogging for Books

I signed up a while ago to the site Blogging for Books which is part of Waterbrook Multnomah Books.  They are a Christian book publishing company and this is my second book I've requested from them.  Think of Downton Abbey era meets Jane Eyre governess and you've got The Governess of Highland Hall.  While this book didn't blow me away, it was a cute story and a fun setting.  I'd read another Carrie Turansky book.  Looking on Goodreads this books is touted as Edwardian Bride #1 so there will probably be more.

Back of the book:

Worlds lie between the marketplaces of India and the halls of a magnificent country estate like Highland Hall. Will Julia be able to find her place when a governess is neither upstairs family nor downstairs help? 
Missionary Julia Foster loves working alongside her parents, ministering and caring for young girls in India. But when the family must return to England due to illness, she readily accepts the burden for her parents’ financial support. Taking on a job at Highland Hall as governess, she quickly finds that teaching her four privileged, ill-mannered charges at a grand estate is more challenging than expected, and she isn’t sure what to make of the estate’s preoccupied master, Sir William Ramsey. 
Widowed and left to care for his two young children and his deceased cousin Randolph’s two teenage girls, William is consumed with saving the estate from the financial ruin. The last thing he needs is any distraction coming from the kindhearted-yet-determined governess who seems to be quietly transforming his household with her persuasive personality, vibrant prayer life, and strong faith. 
While both are tending past wounds and guarding fragile secrets, Julia and William are determined to do what it takes to save their families—common ground that proves fertile for unexpected feelings. But will William choose Julia’s steadfast heart and faith over the wealth and power he needs to secure Highland Hall’s future?

My thoughts:

First things first: this is a Christian book and it's pretty obvious.  I was obviously ok with it because I'm a Christian and I signed up to read this knowing the book's stance.  But if you just grabbed it off the shelf you'd probably know that to because, well, Julia Foster is a missionary so it shouldn't come as too much of a surprise.  

This is a great quick book if you are needing to come out of a reading slump like I was.  I was in one of those keep picking up books but nothing was sticking mood.  This is a quick, light, and fun read.  I enjoyed most of the characters including the side characters.  While sometimes Julia Foster seemed a little too perfect, it wasn't too grating because I love how books like these divulge her inner thoughts and prayers.  A quick short little sentence that really states her fears and thoughts and it's refreshing.  I think the only character I'd have liked to know more is Sir William Ramsey.  It was hard to get to know him too much because he was completely overwhelmed with being thrown into the role of Highland Hall's master and dealing with all the financial problems that come with it.  The character I really enjoyed was Sir William's sister, Sarah, who became a good friend of Julia's and was a refreshing change from the snobby elitism you'd expect from women of her class.  

The only real problem I had with the writing is that while most of the story is told through Julia or William's perspectives, there were random once in while chapters told from other characters' perspectives.  While I didn't mind those perspectives, it made it a bit confusing and sporadic feeling.  I would have liked to just stick with the two perspectives.  


I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Bellman & Black - Diane Setterfield

Title: Bellman & Black: A Ghost Story
Author: Diane Setterfield
Paperback: 337 pages (ARE version)
Publisher: Atria
Published date: October 2013
FTC: Requested to review from Atria

I was so excited when I saw Atria was offering the newest Diane Setterfield book.  I really enjoyed her book The Thirteenth Tale (must re-read that one again) and thought this one sounded pretty good.  I mean a ghost story for the fall.  Diane Setterfield is a good writer.  Beautiful really.  But the story was just, well, boring.  I think this would translate a lot better into a short story.

Back of the book:

 One moment in time can haunt you forever.

As a boy, William Bellman kills a rook with his slingshot. The act is soon forgotten amidst the riot of boyhood games, but has unforeseen and terrible consequences. By the time he is grown, with a wife and children of his own, he seems to have put the whole incident behind him. But rooks don't forget. When a stranger mysteriously enters his life, William's fortunes begin to turn. Desperate to save the one precious thing he has left, he enters into a bargain. A rather strange bargain, with an even stranger partner, to found a decidedly macabre business. And Bellman & Black is born.

My thoughts:

I am a nerd for history.  My undergrad degree is in history and I am just a sucker for things that probably are completely boring to other people.  Bellman & Black is chock full of details.  But even the historian fiend in me started yawning.  I mean it IS interesting.  If you want to know all about the Victorian era - how Bellman ran a country business selling wool and dyes.  How he methodically expanded his business.  How he eventually got into the Victorian craze for death and created a company that catered to the business of burying loved ones.  All very well researched and in depth descriptions.  But man.  I just wanted to get to the ghost story part.

Which brings me to the ghost story part.  I get that killing a bird as a boy would probably be a pretty memorably haunting event.  But each chapter had a little section on rooks and while it started out interesting it just got boring and repetitive.  Then the ending of the ghost story - to me - just fell flat.  All that build up and all that detail....

As I said before, this would have made one fantastic short story.  This story would appeal to you if you were really interested in rooks, Victorian era industry, or the Victorian era burial traditions.

Alternate Covers:

Monday, January 6, 2014

The Forgotten Garden - Kate Morton

Title: The Forgotten Garden
Author: Kate Morton
Paperback: 645 pages
Published date: 2008
Publisher: Pan Books
FTC: Bought at library book sale

Whenever I get into a reading slump I know that a Kate Morton book will get me back on track. It's amazing how her books just suck me into the story and I can speed through these little chunksters.  My only problem is now I've read them all (this is my second favorite - first being her newest The Secret Keeper).  I'm going to have to go back and re-read my first Morton book The House at Riverton.

Back of the book:

1913 - On the eve of the First World War a little girl is abandoned after a grueling ocean voyage from England to Australia. All she can remember of the journey is that a mysterious women she calls the Authoress had promised to look after her. But the Authoress has vanished without trace.

1975 - Now an old lady, Nell travels to England to discover the truth about her parentage. Her quest leads her to Cornwall, and to a beautiful estate called Blackhurst Manor, which had been owned by the Mountrachet family. What has prompted Nell's journey after all these years?

2005 - On Nell's death her granddaughter, Cassandra, comes into a surprise inheritance. Cliff Cottage, in the grounds of Blackhurst Manor, is notorious amongst the locals for the secrets it holds - secrets about the doomed Mountrachet family. But it is at Cliff Cottage, abandoned for years, and in its forgotten garden, that Cassandra will uncover the truth about the family and why the young Nell was abandoned all those decades before.

My thoughts:

For some reason I've been on a random kick lately reading books set in Cornwall.  It wasn't a conscious decision but it's been making me long to travel.  Morton always has a beautiful way of writing and developing the landscape and characters.  Her stories are always set in different time periods, chapters alternating in time adding pieces to a type of jigsaw mystery.  I love how she does it and how it all comes together at the end.  While I wasn't really surprised (guessed most of the mysteries before they were reviled) it was still a lovely ride.

I was reading Kate Morton's bio at the front of this book and noticed that she grew up in Australia.  Most of her books have taken place in the UK so it was pretty cool to have the Australia part in this one.  I'd love to see her write more about her native home.

Like her previous novels, it's not only the time period and location that sucks me in, but how she writes her characters.  This one was no exception.  It's amazing to see how secrets change lives.  I fell for the Authoress, Eliza, of this story.  If you have never read a Kate Morton book, try picking up The Forgotten Garden.  Beautiful.

Cover versions:

The above cover is the book I found at the local library book sale.  It's a UK version.  I also adore the US version cover.  Her books all have the same look and I would love to collect these ones:

While perusing Kate Morton's website, I also noticed there are new paperback versions with a different type of cover.  Not sure how I feel about these.  They feel too generic romancy.  What are your thoughts?

Check out my reviews for Kate Morton's other titles: The Distant Hours, The Secret Keeper, The House at Riverton

Friday, December 27, 2013

...And Back

Wow. Doesn't time just fly sometimes?  I had no clue that I would be taking such a long hiatus.  So what took me away from posting book reviews?

Who knew that a 2 1/2 year old and a 6 month old would be so time consuming? Hahaha.  Fortunately my little guy is now able to sit up by himself and play for a few minutes at a time freeing me up a tad bit more.

Rocket and I are still reading a lot.  He currently loves Greg Foley's books.  Here we are reading one of the bear series books Thank You Bear:

He loves the Willoughby books by Greg Foley too.  Here he is "reading" Willoughby and the Lion:

Hopefully I'll be able to catch up to writing a ton of reviews.  Thanks for sticking around!

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Nicole Galland: Godiva Interview & Giveaway!

I was so excited when I got the chance to interview Nicole Galland in regards to her new novel Godiva.  You can check out her website for her complete bio - in a nutshell she's a Harvard graduate, from Martha's Vineyard, is a screenwriter and theater co-founder, and has written a handful of novels.

If you haven't checked out my review yesterday, pop over and read it. Stick around and enter the giveaway at the end of the post.

Welcome to A Library of My Own!  Thank you so much for letting me review your novel Godiva and answering a few questions!

1) What I loved about Godiva is that it seems to be a novel about relationships: Godiva and her friend Edgiva, and Godiva and her husband Leofric.  Do you think these relationships were typical or realistic for the time period?  

That’s an insightful question, and two answers come to me at once.

First, yes, relationships are very important to me, I love to write about them... but they are so very context-dependent. We can’t begin to understand or know the emotional rules of engagement in an era so vastly removed from our own; we can only imagine them. I like to imagine them as being familiar to me and my readers. While it is flattering to be told that one has “captured the authentic feeling of an era,” there isn’t really any way to know if that era has been captured authentically unless the person saying so has time-traveled from that era to the present day.

All of which is a long-winded way of saying: there’s no way to know if these relationships were typical or realistic in 1046 England. They are, however, typical and realistic in Nicole Galland’s imagination ;-)

Second: to the degree that I can hazard an educated guess, it is true that women in Anglo-Saxon England had more social and personal clout/freedom/agency than their descendants over the next, oh, 900 years. So these relationships are more realistic for the late Anglo-Saxon era than for the Norman, high medieval, Renaissance, Restoration, Enlightenment, Early Modern, Victorian, etc... Than most of the eras that followed.

2) Lady Godiva is such a fascinating character.  She is wealthy in her own right, married to a well-positioned man, and cleverly smart.  I can see her character being loved or hated because she used her sexual appeal for political purposes. What made her character appealing to you?

She came to me fully fledged, like Athena out of Zeus’s head. I almost didn’t have a say in it (she is, as you have perhaps noticed, like that). Originally, of course, I was drawn to her because she rode naked on a horse as a tax protest, which made her intriguing before I really “knew” her.

The sex-appeal-as-weapon (which as I said, was her idea! She showed up and informed me of it. Very charmingly, of course)... through most of human history, women have been valued largely as sexual objects, which means per their sex appeal. (Not that every woman who was ever made a concubine was “hot,” but the “hot” ones, the flirty ones, generally received more attention.) Even in “modern American society,” there is tremendous pressure on women to present themselves as sexually desirable. We don’t use that as a political weapon but we do use it as a social one – or rather, consumer society is set up to encourage us to do so. And so many of us have internally that message, we don’t even realize it. We mostly notice it as a sense of insecurity or low self-esteem when we are “failing” to appeal.

What I like about Godiva is that she has a clear-eyed understanding of “the male gaze,” and uses that understanding for big-picture, practical purposes. She doesn’t feel persecuted by the pressure to be pretty, nor does she feel offended by it; she accepts that this is how men work, she doesn’t hold it against them, and she doesn’t rely on her beauty to feel good about herself. It is simply a tool to be used for matters of importance to her. She’s not a spring chicken; her allure is largely in her self-confidence, and if no man ever melted under her gaze again, she’d just shrug and find some other way to get on a level playing field with them – and continue to feel good about herself. She’s above having an ego-attachment to her attractivenes; her ego is healthy independent of her attractiveness (to the point that the attractiveness is almost like a costume she likes to don), and I admire that. 

3) I haven’t read many novels set during this time period, the 11th Century.  I especially liked reading about the interactions between the Anglo-Saxons and the Normans and your depiction of King Edward.  How did you do your research and what drew you towards writing about this time period?  

When I was writing my first novel, The Fool’s Tale, I was taken in by a wonderful couple named Alan and Maureen Crumpler, in the town of Leominster, UK. (There’s a great story about meeting them on my website, somewhere. It’s one of the 10 Great Anecdotes of My Life) They told me the story of Abbess Edgiva and Earl Sweyn, which was my initial impulse to write a novel about this era. I was drawn to their story because there are two historical flavors to the events: one sees their story as an act of violence, the other as a genuine romance. I wanted to explore different ways to tell the story... But then, in my research about Leominster Abbey, I learned about Leofric (since he was the abbey’s patron) and then Godiva... And once Godiva showed up, she took control.

4) Besides being an author, you’ve also directed plays and worked in the theater.  Can you envision any actors who’d play your characters?

Funny you should ask, one of the books (I better not say which one) has been turned into a screenplay and is making the rounds, so there’s been a lot of talk about this. It’s hard for me to chime in on it. I see my characters as themselves, for lack of a better way to put it. I think Natalie Dormer from Game of Thrones would be an excellent Godiva when she’s older, although so, in a very different way, would Emilia Clark. Now see, that’s just because I was thinking about Game of Thrones today... Otherwise, I would not have even have been able to come up with those ideas!

5) We both agree that authors are rock stars.  What authors do you think are rock stars?

I’ll limit this answer to living authors, as a list of all authors through history would go on forever (although of course, Shakespeare tops the list and Tolstoy is right behind him, followed by Dr. Seuss...and for historical fiction it is absolutely Dorothy Dunnett... but after that, see, it gets tricky because there are at least 5 dozen more I could then rattle off...)

Living authors... Too many again to list, but here are a few categories, because I have wide-ranging taste:

Author who, when I hear he has a new book out, I squeal most loudly with delight: Christopher Moore
Authors who leaves me speechless with astonishment for sundry reasons: David Foster Wallace, David Mitchell, Dave Eggers
Author whose book I have read the most times in a row and I never cease to rave about: Norton Juster, who wrote The Phantom Tollbooth, my favorite book ever
Authors whose work I love so much I wish I had written it: Susan Cooper (the Dark is Rising series) and Barbara Kingsolver (The Poisonwood Bible)
Authors whose use of language makes me want to speak it aloud as I read it: Geraldine Brooks, Ursula LeGuin, and I know I am forgetting others because I’ve spent years of my life trying to read things I like out loud to other people.

That is a partial list... Thanks for asking me to think of them! That was fun.

Now for the giveaway!!  I have a beautiful paperback copy of Godiva for one lucky winner.  Just fill out the form below.  The giveaway is open through October 7th and US residents only.  Thanks!!

This could be your nightstand (lamp and mug not included)