Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Crow Hollow - Michael Wallace

Title: Crow Hollow
Author: Michael Wallace
Paperback: 335 pages
Publisher: Lake Union Publishing
Published date: June 2015
FTC: Received from publisher to review

When I received an email asking if I wanted to review Michael Wallace's novel Crow Hollow, I was intrigued. I normally don't jump onto tours or review unknown authors anymore since with two little ones I just get swamped but I love this time period. One of my favorite movies is The Last of the Mohicans and I love learning about early United States history. Crow Hollow takes place almost a century before The French and Indian War, just after a period in history I wasn't too familiar with - King Philip's War. I love learning new things. Anyway, mix the time period in with an English spy (you got me there) and a young widow trying to find her daughter held captive by native tribes...it's a great read.

Back of the book:

In 1676, an unlikely pair—a young Puritan widow and an English spy—journeys across a land where greed and treachery abound.
Prudence Cotton has recently lost her husband and is desperate to find her daughter, captured by the Nipmuk tribe during King Philip’s war. She’s convinced her daughter is alive but cannot track her into the wilderness alone. Help arrives in the form of James Bailey, an agent of the crown sent to Boston to investigate the murder of Prudence’s husband and to covertly cause a disturbance that would give the king just cause to install royal governors. After his partner is murdered, James needs help too. He strikes a deal with Prudence, and together they traverse the forbidding New England landscape looking for clues. What they confront in the wilderness—and what they discover about each other—could forever change their allegiances and alter their destinies.
My thoughts:

I am so glad I decided to review Crow Hollow because it was an excellent read. From the first chapter I was sucked into James Bailey and Prudence Cotton's story.  It alternates between their perspectives and I loved getting into both of their heads. Michael Wallace did a great job of setting the stage and story without overly going into the history or bogging it down with details. That said, the details he did include filled out this past world perfectly. I could completely visualize this time period.

Getting into James and Prudence's story, it was fascinating to see all the politics that went on during this time period. I realized that I didn't know much about the autonomy some of these early colonies had. There was also fairly good friction between countries too, the Dutch in New York and the French not to mention the various Native tribes who's alliance were as individual as tribes. Crow Hollow is really almost a murder mystery with political intrigue and conspiracy thrown in and a touch of romance. It was all really well balanced and flowed incredibly well. I kept thinking this would make a fascinating movie or mini-series.

As for the characters themselves, I thought they were incredibly well written. James Bailey walks that fine line being a womanizing Crown's agent and cad and falls into the fortunately better role of being an honorable hero. Prudence Cotton's character also walks that fine line of being an irritating desperate widow and falls into the better role of being a self-reliant and independent woman. Prudence's back story of being held captive by a Native tribe after watching her town's massacre and then the retribution and massacre of many natives. On top of losing her husband and daughter, I just felt like Prudence's amazing resilience and compassion was awesome to read.

If you like historical fiction this is a great read but regardless of the time period, if you like mystery, intrigue, and conspiracy, Crow Hollow is a great pick.

Friday, May 15, 2015

The Precious One - Marisa de los Santos

Title: The Precious One
Author: Marisa de los Santos
Hardcover: 359 pages
Publisher: HarperCollins
Published date: March 2015
FTC: Requested from publisher

Marisa de los Santos is one of my comfort authors. You know what I mean. Those authors that when their book comes out, you'll want to read it, stay up too late at night reading it, and will enjoy it. It's your go-to when you want out of a reading slump which is what happened with The Precious One. It's going to have intelligent writing, sympathetic characters, and a good story, but not I'm not going to have to overly think. I never pick up her books thinking, eh, I don't feel like delving back into this story.

Back of the book:

In all her life, Eustacia “Taisy” Cleary has given her heart to only three men: her first love, Ben Ransom; her twin brother, Marcus; and Wilson Cleary — professor, inventor, philanderer, self-made millionaire, brilliant man, breathtaking jerk: her father.

Seventeen years ago, Wilson ditched his first family for Caroline, a beautiful young sculptor. In all that time, Taisy’s family has seen Wilson, Caroline, and their daughter Willow only once. 

Why then, is Wilson calling Taisy now, inviting her for an extended visit, encouraging her to meet her pretty sister — a teenager who views her with jealousy, mistrust, and grudging admiration? Why, now, does Wilson want Taisy to help him write his memoir?

Told in alternating voices — Taisy’s strong, unsparing observations and Willow’s naive, heartbreakingly earnest yearnings — The Precious One is an unforgettable novel of family secrets, lost love, and dangerous obsession, a captivating tale with the deep characterization, piercing emotional resonance, and heartfelt insight that are the hallmarks of Marisa de los Santos’s beloved works.

My thoughts:

I love books about family relationships. There are just so many facets to explore when it comes to families. When I picked up The Precious Ones, I thought it just be from Taisy's perspective. I was pleasantly surprised when I realized that the chapters alternate between Taisy and her half sister Willow. It's pretty rare when I don't have a preference - I thoroughly enjoyed both Taisy and Willow's story and their unique voice.

Taisy is in her early 30s and gets a phone call from her father that he wants her to come help him write his memoir. Taisy is a pretty successful ghostwriter but she hasn't had contact with her father since he left their family when she and her twin brother were 18. I love that while intellectually she knows her father isn't ever going to be the father she wants, she still craves his approval. He is her weakness. I love that while Taisy is an attractive, good character, she doesn't come across as annoying. Perhaps because we see her perfection often through the eyes of her half sister who is pretty critical of this interloper.

Which leads to Willow. I loved Willow's voice.  Sheltered, home-schooled, and very intelligent, Willow is a beautiful teenager but very naive in a lot of things. Her weakness is her complete adoration of her father. I loved her intelligence so it was fun reading her often pettiness and teenage selfishness come out in her seemingly wise beyond her age voice.

Both sisters go through their own trials and situations that make them realize that hurt people hurt. That family is important and often flawed. That putting people on pedestals is never a good idea. That everyone makes mistakes but forgiveness is key.

Other stuff:

Have you ever read any of Marisa de los Santos' books? Who is your comfort author(s)?

Here's two of my comforts - a good book and coffee.  It's hard to tell from the photos but I love the cover, it's got a really cool feel.

Check out my reviews of her other books:
Belong to Me
Falling Together

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Station Eleven - Emily St. John Mandel

Title: Station Eleven
Author: Emily St. John Mandel
Hardcover: 352 pages (my version eBook)
Publisher: Knopf
Published date: 2014
FTC: Library eBook

I had heard a lot of buzz about Emily St. John Mandel's apocalyptic novel Station Eleven and to be honest, I adore dsytopian or apocalyptic novels. I know I know. I just can't get enough. That and it won or was a finalist for a ton of awards and let's be honest...I love the cover. (Hands clapping for the designer.) Anyway, I am still pondering exactly what I think of it. It's definitely a story that will stick with you so not easily forgettable and the writing is definitely superb.  But the story. Hmm. Let's just say I find that it really doesn't matter what the story is, if you write it in a non-linear format you have a higher chance for getting accolades. Just saying.

Back of the book:

An audacious, darkly glittering novel set in the eerie days of civilization's collapse, Station Eleven tells the spellbinding story of a Hollywood star, his would-be savior, and a nomadic group of actors roaming the scattered outposts of the Great Lakes region, risking everything for art and humanity.

One snowy night Arthur Leander, a famous actor, has a heart attack onstage during a production of King Lear. Jeevan Chaudhary, a paparazzo-turned-EMT, is in the audience and leaps to his aid. A child actress named Kirsten Raymonde watches in horror as Jeevan performs CPR, pumping Arthur's chest as the curtain drops, but Arthur is dead. That same night, as Jeevan walks home from the theater, a terrible flu begins to spread. Hospitals are flooded and Jeevan and his brother barricade themselves inside an apartment, watching out the window as cars clog the highways, gunshots ring out, and life disintegrates around them.

Fifteen years later, Kirsten is an actress with the Traveling Symphony. Together, this small troupe moves between the settlements of an altered world, performing Shakespeare and music for scattered communities of survivors. Written on their caravan, and tattooed on Kirsten's arm is a line from Star Trek: "Because survival is insufficient." But when they arrive in St. Deborah by the Water, they encounter a violent prophet who digs graves for anyone who dares to leave.

Spanning decades, moving back and forth in time, and vividly depicting life before and after the pandemic, this suspenseful, elegiac novel is rife with beauty. As Arthur falls in and out of love, as Jeevan watches the newscasters say their final good-byes, and as Kirsten finds herself caught in the crosshairs of the prophet, we see the strange twists of fate that connect them all. A novel of art, memory, and ambition, Station Eleven tells a story about the relationships that sustain us, the ephemeral nature of fame, and the beauty of the world as we know it.

My Thoughts:

In the story the world as we know it ends through a very contagious, fast spreading virus with a high mortality rate. Most people in the world die. Without people running things, it all just winds down. For instance, people who are in an airport when the "world ends" are kind of just left living in the airport for the next 20 years. Crazy but the book makes insanely believable sense.

I love how the story follows the Traveling Symphony who are like old school troubadours, traveling and performing "Because survival is insufficient." I love that view of humanity. Kirsten, the main character in the book in the Traveling Symphony is a great character and I love how she has hung on to this comic book from her childhood, Station Eleven, and how the name of the novel gets its name from that comic book.

I think the only thing I wasn't too thrilled about was Arthur's whole story which is a flashback to before the "end of the world." I mean, I get that it was sort of necessary to understand how Kirsten got the comic book but really, it was kind of a cliched Hollywood story that I didn't really care too much about in the midst of this apocalyptic story that was pretty fascinating with it's whole, ok pretty cliched too, prophet who is wrecking havoc.

So I guess that's where I'm left. She is a great writer. The characters are well developed and I love the traveling symphony part of the story. I like the comic book as part of the story. And again, if you write a non-linear story it is pretty fun to read and I've noticed award winning books are often non-linear. But. The story had a lot of cliched aspects. And I really didn't care for the main Arthur story which is a lot of the book. So....

Have you read Station Eleven? Great? Meh? Thoughts?

Friday, April 24, 2015

The Winter Guest - Pam Jenoff

Title: The Winter Guest
Author: Pam Jenoff
Publisher: Harlequin Mira
Published date: 2014
Paperback: 341 pages (ARC version)
FTC: Received ARC from publisher to review

I'd heard of Pam Jenoff but I had never read any of her books before. I'd been wanting to read her WWII books The Kommandant's Girl and its follow up The Diplomat's Wife.  So when I received another WWII book The Winter Guest to review I delved in. I have to admit it took me longer to finish than normal. It was great writing, interesting area in Poland, it just seemed to drag a bit. BUT it did have a nice twisty turn at the end.  A good read but not my favorite WWII book.

Back of the book:

A stirring novel of first love in a time of war and the unbearable choices that could tear sisters apart, from the celebrated author of The Kommandant's Girl 

Life is a constant struggle for the eighteen-year-old Nowak twins as they raise their three younger siblings in rural Poland under the shadow of the Nazi occupation. The constant threat of arrest has made everyone in their village a spy, and turned neighbor against neighbor. Though rugged, independent Helena and pretty, gentle Ruth couldn't be more different, they are staunch allies in protecting their family from the threats the war brings closer to their doorstep with each passing day. 

Then Helena discovers an American paratrooper stranded outside their small mountain village, wounded, but alive. Risking the safety of herself and her family, she hides Sam—a Jew—but Helena's concern for the American grows into something much deeper. Defying the perils that render a future together all but impossible, Sam and Helena make plans for the family to flee. But Helena is forced to contend with the jealousy her choices have sparked in Ruth, culminating in a singular act of betrayal that endangers them all—and setting in motion a chain of events that will reverberate across continents and decades.

My thoughts:

I always enjoy books about sisters. I have a sister (and brother) and I always find reading about the different sibling dynamics so interesting. While I know all siblings have their unique odd idiosyncrasies, I just didn't quite buy the disconnect between Ruth and Helena.  The narration is told from both Ruth and Helena's perspectives and it was pretty obvious that the reader wasn't supposed to quite like Ruth and root for Helena. That said I did like getting into the heads of both sisters and how these twins had such different experiences and perspectives. I really felt for the sisters who were left taking care of their siblings, such an enormous responsibility in peace time and an almost impossible task during wartime.

It was interesting to read about Poland during this period as the Nazi's are moving in and no one can hide from their presence. If you are looking for a really good romance, this probably isn't the one to pick up. There is a romantic story between Helena and Sam, the downed American but for some reason I didn't really find it too stirring. Not bad, just ok. It all seemed a bit juvenile but then again, they were all young, just teenagers so there's that.

Like I said above, the story didn't really pick up until almost the end, around 250 pages in. Yeah. So while good writing, engaging characters and a good historical time period, it just kind of dragged a bit. I still want to check out her book The Kommandant's Girl. Pam Jenoff is a wonderful writer and I was fascinated by her as an author in her acknowledgments.  She worked at the Pentagon and was in Slovakia for the 50th Anniversary of WWII when she heard a true story that inspired this story. I think that's why I still am drawn to WWII stories because it was such a perilous and tumulus time that the true stories (and thus fictional ones) to come out of that period are so numerous and fascinating.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Not My Father's Son - Alan Cumming

Title: Not My Father's Son: A Memoir
Author: Alan Cumming
Publisher: HarperAudio
Published date: 2014
FTC: Checked eAudio from library

When I heard that Alan Cumming came out with a memoir I really wanted to read it. I am an Alan Cumming fan. Ok, not a crazy, seen everything of his type of fan. Just one of those every time I see him in something I think he does a fantastic job and I can tell, just tell, that he is a truly likable person. AND he does the intro to Masterpiece Mystery if you've ever watched Sherlock (strictly to make Patti Smith jealous - just kidding - read the book).  Which is funny because that is one of my memories of my father, watching Masterpiece Mystery and loving the Gorey intros.  I also knew I'd want to listen to the audio because 1) Alan Cumming has a fabulous voice - I just listened to the audiobook of Scott Westerfeld's Leviathan and he did an awesome job and 2) I love when people narrate their own memoirs, it's so interesting to hear their story told in their own voice. For example, I love Kristin Chenoweth's audio book A Little Bit Wicked. Awesome. Anyway, I digress.

Back of the book:

 In his unique and engaging voice, the acclaimed actor of stage and screen shares the emotional story of his complicated relationship with his father and the deeply buried family secrets that shaped his life and career.

A beloved star of stage, television, and film--"one of the most fun people in show business" (Time magazine)--Alan Cumming is a successful artist whose diversity and fearlessness is unparalleled. His success masks a painful childhood growing up under the heavy rule of an emotionally and physically abusive father--a relationship that tormented him long into adulthood.

When television producers in the UK approached him to appear on a popular celebrity genealogy show in 2010, Alan enthusiastically agreed. He hoped the show would solve a family mystery involving his maternal grandfather, a celebrated WWII hero who disappeared in the Far East. But as the truth of his family ancestors revealed itself, Alan learned far more than he bargained for about himself, his past, and his own father.

With ribald humor, wit, and incredible insight, Alan seamlessly moves back and forth in time, integrating stories from his childhood in Scotland and his experiences today as a film, television, and theater star. At times suspenseful, deeply moving, and wickedly funny, Not My Father's Son will make readers laugh even as it breaks their hearts.

My thoughts:

While I was a fan of Alan Cumming as an actor and performer before I read this book, I can safely say that I was correct and he is a thoroughly likeable person.  He has got such a great sense of humor and such a way of bringing his story to life. The narration flashes between Then - stories of growing up in Scotland where, I know this is silly, but I keep seeing his father as a gruffer meaner version of Golly in Monarch of the Glen. (Seriously, Netflix it - fun show.) Then if flashes to Now (being 2010) when he is doing the genealogy show Who Do You Think You Are? which sounds fantastic. I tend to not like reality shows but I love genealogy being a history major and all. And I do really think that a lot of us have questions about our ancestors or past that would be fascinating to uncover.

Since I haven't seen the show, I thought it uncovered his parental questions. Nope. That would have been really awful even for reality tv. Anyway, the show went into what happened to his grandfather Tommy Darling after WWII.  But during this time, his father tells him that he wasn't his father's son.  Wow. Now if you think well, that's the story I don't need to read the memoir....um....no. I don't want to spoil it for you.

While filled with painful memories from his past, Alan Cumming manages to make his memoir quite humorous (I really need to watch Eurovision) and respectful. I was actually quite amazed at his ability to manage his outrage, emotions, and language at some of the things he went through. At the end of the book, when Alan Cumming dedicates the book in part to his father, while also stating that he is NOT his father's son (so interesting, read the book) it is pretty jaw dropping fantastic.

How can I possibly rate someone's intimate memoir? I did. Five stars.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Gretel and the Case of the Missing Frog Prints - P.J. Brackston

Title: Gretel and the Case of the Missing Frog Prints (A Brothers Grimm Mystery #1)
Author: P.J. Brackston
Publisher: Pegasus Crime
Published date: January 2015
FTC: Publisher sent the book to review

I am a bit of a sucker for fairy tales and while Disney is fun I tend to prefer my fairy tales to be more Grimm if you know what I mean. At first I was a little leery when I started the story but I ended up really liking it. It reminded me of my type of beach read. You know, one of those stories or series that you know you'll enjoy, won't be a tough read and you can read the whole thing on your vacation.

Back of the book:

Bavaria, 1776. 

When Albrecht Durer the Much Much Younger's Frog Prints go missing, he knows exactly where to turn for help. Gretel (yes, that Gretel), now 35 and still living with her gluttonous brother Hans, is the country's most famous private investigator, and she leaps at the opportunity to travel to cosmopolitan Nuremberg to take on the case. But amid the hubbub of the city's annual sausage festival, Gretel struggles to find any clues that point toward the elusive thief.

Even with the aid of the chatty mice living under her bed, the absent prints remain stubbornly out of view, and Gretel is forced to get creative in her search for the truth.

My thoughts:

When I first started reading this book I was a tad leery. I mean, when I thought of Hansel and Gretel being detectives I was thinking more like Jeremey Renner and Gemma Arterton from the movie.  The book opens up with Hans being a bit pudgy and lazy (kind of like on the cover of the book) and Gretel liking to indulge in food as well.  I just couldn't get a grasp in my head what Gretel looked like. But as the story progressed I started to really enjoy the time period, the comedy, and the character of Gretel. I like when authors can get a historical time period to feel authentic without being overly descriptive and keep the story going. I also really enjoyed the fairy tale whimsey - like talking mice and hobgoblins - that actually felt realistic.

I also enjoyed the variety of characters: the historical Albrecht Durer's much much younger relation, Gretel's nemesis Kingsman Kapitan Strudel who's competitive jealousy is hilarious to read, and General Ferdinand who is a handsome possible love interest.  Of all the shows and movies out there, I think this one would be so fun to adapt. It was a fun book to read.

Extra stuff:

Albrecht Durer is a famous artist I remember learning about in my art history class.  If you Google Albrecht Durer animals you can see some gorgeous work.  Here is a rhino print that I believe was mentioned in the book:

I also did't make the connection that P.J. Brackston and Paula Brackston are the same author (duh!) and I had recently received her book The Silver Witch in the mail. Have you read any of her works? I had seen a few of her books but had never read them. The covers are gorgeous though:

I also just noticed that the cover and description for book #2 of the Grimm Mysteries is now out. Here is Once Upon a Crime:

Gretel and the Case of the Missing Frogs was a perfect fit for Carl's Once Upon a Time Challenge. Head over to the review site to check out other people's reviews of fairy tale-ish reads.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Once Upon a Time IX

If you've read my blog for long enough, you'll know that I love participating in and following Stainless Steel Droppings' different yearly challenges: Once Upon a Time, R.I.P. and Science Fiction.  It used to be more of a challenge for me. I'd write up lists of books to read and check them off. Now that I have less free time to read, I love checking out other people's choices and just enjoying the magical feeling of Spring. Yes! It is finally spring!

The Once Upon a Time IX Challenge has a few rules:

Rule #1: Have fun.
Rule #2: HAVE FUN.
Rule #3: Don’t keep the fun to yourself, share it with us, please!
Rule #4: Do not be put off by the word “challenge”.

In Carl's own words:

Saturday, March 21st marks the official start date of the ninth annual Once Upon a Time Challenge. This is a reading and viewing and gaming event that encompasses four broad categories: Fairy Tale, Folklore, Fantasy and Mythology, including the seemingly countless sub-genres and blending of genres that fall within this spectrum. The challenge continues through June 21st and allows for very minor (1 book only) participation as well as more immersion depending on your reading/viewing/gaming whims.

I'm excited for this one because there are a few books I recently finished that fit perfectly into the fairy tale category. If you haven't checked out Carl's awesome site Stainless Steel Droppings, head over to check it out.  

You can check out the links to some of my past Once Upon a Time reads.  Hope you join in or check out the Review Site to see what other people are reading.  Cheers!

Once Upon a Time III
Once Upon a Time V
Once Upon a Time VII