Friday, December 28, 2012

The holidays and stuff

I hope everyone has been having a great holiday season this year! We had a great Christmas here in Las Vegas.  So far the weather is more wintery while still having beautiful blue skies and sunny days.  We even got a bit of snow one night and can see snow in the mountains.

I'm so blessed this Christmas to have my mother-in-law in town -- she keeps a constant smile on our little Rocket's face and gives me much needed breaks to take naps or read frivolous holiday books.  Here's a couple photos from Rocket's second Christmas:

My New Year's Resolution is to clear of my read/to-review shelf.  I can't tell you how many books I've read that I've yet to review.  So while there are many great ones the reviews might be a little "eh" because it's been a while since I've read them.  But my goal is to spew these out so that I can move on.  Kind of like how cleaning house sort of cleans out your brain.

One last picture, I love how my little guy is starting to be such a book worm:

Friday, December 7, 2012

Flight Behavior - Barbara Kingsolver

Title: Flight Behavior
Author: Barbara Kingsolver
Hardcover: 448 pages (my version is ARE)
Publisher: HarperColllins
Published date: November 2012
FTC: Received ARE for review for TLC Book Tours

Barbara Kingsolver is one of my favorite authors.  I devoured and loved The Poisonwood Bible and it's still one of my favorite all-time books. Even my husband adored it and he's very very picky.  Over the last few years I've been collecting her books.  Oddly enough I still hadn't read anything else besides The Poisonwood Bible. I think I was nervous that her other books wouldn't be as good.  So when I heard she was coming out with a new book and I had the opportunity to be on the TLC Book Tour for it I jumped at the chance.  O. My. Gosh.  This proves it...Barbara Kingsolver is one of my favorite authors...I MUST read her other books.

Back of the book:

Dellarobia Turnbow is a restless farm wife who gave up her own plans when she accidentally became pregnant at seventeen. Now, after a decade of domestic disharmony on a failing farm, she has settled for permanent disappointment but seeks momentary escape through an obsessive flirtation with a younger man. As she hikes up a mountain road behind her house to a secret tryst, she encounters a shocking sight: a silent, forested valley filled with what looks like a lake of fire. She can only understand it as a cautionary miracle, but it sparks a raft of other explanations from scientists, religious leaders, and the media. The bewildering emergency draws rural farmers into unexpected acquaintance with the urbane journalists, opportunists, sightseers, and a striking biologist with his own stake in the outcome. As the community lines up to judge the woman and her miracle, Dellarobia confronts her family, her church, her town, and a larger world, in a flight toward truth that could undo all she has ever believed.

My thoughts:

Barbara Kingsolver proves again to be an amazing writer.  Similar to The Poisonwood Bible, she also proves to be a fascinating writer of biology which I was not surprised to discover she has a degree in.  I went into this book not knowing much - which made it hard to write this review.  I really want you to go into into it with that same wonder unraveling.  If you are like me and are going to read this book, stop right here and go pick it up.  Come back later and tell me what you think.  For the rest of you who need more info....ok it's not really a spoiler so here we go....

First couple of pages we meet Dellarobia, mother of two, twenty-eight years old and married for over a decade.  She's literally fleeing from her life - in a small Tennessee farm town where everyone knows everyone else's business - having an affair would rip her small world apart. But she is prepared to do it until she comes across a jaw-dropping discovery on the mountain behind her house: trees that are apparently aflame but without noise or heat.  It's only a few pages later that we discover that what Dellarobia thought was flame without her eyeglasses was really an entire forest covered in monarch butterflies.  Normally wintering in Mexico, these beautiful creatures have inexplicably settled in the Appalachian mountains during one of the wetest and weirdest winters in remembered history.

Told entirely through Dellarobia's perspective, Barbara Kingsolver does an amazing job bringing this story to life.  While I'm usually drawn into her unique settings, it's usually the characters that end up stealing the show.  Dellarobia is a beautifully drawn out character and while she doesn't have more than a high school education, I loved that Barbara Kingsolver made her voice real without overemphasizing her lack of education or Southern accent.  How refreshing.  While Dellarobia is a character that is striving for something more out of her life, she is also struggling to find her place in her family.  Her in-laws basically rule the roost, her husband doesn't seem to have anything in common with her, and while she adores her two children it just isn't enough for her.  As a side note, there was quite a few things that irked me about Dellarobia but it was interesting that she usually called herself out on them or her best friend Dovey would.

I was a bit nervous after reading the synopsis and then starting the book that the whole religious zealousness over the monarchs on the mountains would be overplayed.  While there is some talk of Dellarobia having a "vision" or being "touched by God," I was relieved to find that Kingsolver didn't make that the focus of the story.  Instead the themes were family and Dellarobia finding her path all with an awesome backdrop of a simultaneous beautiful butterfly appearance and a threatening question of what their appearance means for the world's ecological problems due to global warming.  I loved that Kingsolver was able to really emphasize an aspect of global warming and show the dangers and sadness that is involved.

Barbara’s Tour Stops

Tuesday, November 6th: A Reader of Fictions
Wednesday, November 7th: Dolce Bellezza
Thursday, November 8th: The Blog of Lit Wits
Monday, November 12th: Caribousmom
Tuesday, November 13th: Bookish Habits
Wednesday, November 14th: 50 Books Project
Thursday, November 15th: Unabridged Chick
Monday, November 26th: Book Snob
Tuesday, November 27th: What She Read … – joint review
Wednesday, November 28th: Becca’s Byline
Thursday, November 29th: A Patchwork of Books
Tuesday, December 4th: Much Madness is Divinest Sense
Wednesday, December 5th: No More Grumpy Bookseller
Friday, December 7th: A Library of My Own
Monday, December 10th: 50 Books Project
Tuesday, December 11th: Man of La Book
Wednesday, December 12th: Tina’s Books Reviews
Thursday, December 13th: Seaside Book Corner

Just for fun, my growing stack of Kingsolver books:

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Eve & Adam - Michael Grant & Katherine Applegate

Title: Eve & Adam
Author: Michael Grant & Katherine Applegate
Paperback: 291 pages (ARE)
Publisher: Feiwel and Friends/Macteen
Published date: October 2012
FTC: Requested from Shelf Awareness

I'll admit that I like reading good, fun, clever YA books. This one is up there. It's no Hunger Games or Divergent - it's not even a dystopian book.  So if you are kind of burnt out on dystopian, you still might like this one. Does anyone know if this is going to a be a trilogy or a stand alone? I just read that there is going to be at least a sequel...

Back of the book:

In the beginning, there was an apple. And then there was a car crash, a horrible, debilitating injury, and the hospital. But before Evening Spiker could even lift her head out of the fog of unconsciousness, there was a strange boy checking her out of the hospital and rushing her to Spiker Biopharmaceuticals - her mother's research facility. Just when Eve thinks she will die - not from her injuries, but from boredom - her mother gives her a special project: Create the perfect boy.

Using an amazingly detailed simulation that her mother claims is designed to teach human genetics, Eve starts building a boy from the ground up: eyes, hair, muscles, even a brain, and potential personality traits. Eve is creating Adam. And he will be just perfect...won't he?

My thoughts:

First of all, the beginning of the book is intense and draws you in. I really won't be giving away too much and you can go over to MacTeen to read part of the first chapter, but there's an apple, a good lesson about texting while doing anything, and a debilitating car crash which propels Eve into her mother's Biopharmaceutical complex.  There she is treated by Terra Spiker's specialized doctors and staff -- she also meets the Spiker gopher, a boy her age named Solo.

What I really enjoyed was that the narrative alternated between Eve (goes by E.V.) and Solo.  I really enjoyed Solo's story and perspective.  I think had it just been Eve's perspective it would have been a bit boring - even with her crazy best friend who has serious boyfriend troubles thrown in the mix.  Just be aware that there is a bit of violence with Eve's friend Aislin and her druggie boyfriend.

While Eve is recouping and extremely bored at her mom's work complex, Eve is tasked by her mom to try out a new genetics simulation program that is supposed to help students understand how genetics works humans.  She is supposed to create a human being from scratch - any gender any age - and of course she creates a perfect boy her age -- or is he?  And this is just a silly computer program, or is it?

While this is definitely a teen/YA book, there is interesting underlying questions of morality and ethics. When it comes to the medical field, just because we have the technology, is it still ethically or morally  right to do certain things?  How far is too far?  Even Aislin's relationship with her boyfriend brings up a lot of interesting topics that I think would appeal to teens.

Since it appears that there's going to be at least a sequel, I am curious to see how the story plays out.  The ending of the book leaves a lot hanging and a lot of questions unanswered.

Also Reviewed By:

Luxury Reading
At Home With Books

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Days of Splendor, Days of Sorrow WINNER!

The winner of my contest, thanks to Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours, is LISA!  I emailed you so please send me your snail mail address so I can forward it on and get this lovely book out to you.  Thanks to everyone who entered!  If you haven't already, check out my review of Juliet Grey's novel Days of Splendor, Days of Sorrow.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Lucky Bunny - Jill Dawson

Title: Lucky Bunny
Author: Jill Dawson
Paperback: 349 pages
Publisher: Harper Collins
Published date: October 30, 2012
FTC: Received to review for TLC Book Tours

Big oops.  I was supposed to have this posted yesterday but with the big Presidential elections going on and other fun stuff it totally escaped me.  I even sucked down and finished a week ago, so that tells you something about how much I enjoyed reading Lucky Bunny. If you are interested in a story sort of like A Tree Grows in Brooklyn - but instead of going to college the character turns to a life of crimes - well this is a story for you.

Back of the book:

Queenie Dove is a self-proclaimed genius when it comes to the quintessential arts of survival and thievery. Daring, clever, and alluring, she has spent a lifetime developing the skills of an accomplished thief. Born into a criminal family in London's East End during the Great Depression, and trained by a group of women shoplifters during the Blitz, Queenie commits exploits ranging from petty street crime all the way to far more glamorous - and lucrative - heists. But giving birth to a daughter will make Queenie finally try to go straight - until the opportunity to take part in one last, audacious robbery tempts her back to the life of danger and excitement she once lived to the fullest.

Told in Queenie's captivating and singular voice, this richly colorful story and tis provocative denouement are steeped in questions of character and morality. Is Queenie a woman sinned against, or a sinner herself? Is she wicked through and through? In the spirit of Moll Flanders, Lucky Bunny is a vivid tale of trickery and adventure - and one which has a darker undertow of pain and heartbreak than its heroine prefers to admit to herself. Yes, luck often favors the Queen of Crime, but that is only part of her story.

My thoughts:

This story packs a lot of punch and was fabulously written. It's one of those books that had me GoodReading (I'm coining that phrase) her backlist, a lot of award winning or nominated books among them.  Lucky Bunny is getting a lot of nods as well.

The story is told from Queenie's perspective as she looks back in her life - and she tells you straight up that while she might embellish, the major facts are there.  Queenie likens her story more to Moll Flanders but I couldn't help but think A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.  I was surprised that quite a bit of the book centered around her as a child. But that was what sucked me into the story and made me really enjoy the book -- I adore young Queenie.  Like Francie Nolan, Queenie looks out after her younger brother, adores her often abusive and jailbird father, and has to be a mother in place of her own absentee alcoholic one.  So while no one forced her to turn to crime (and she was quite brilliant so she could have gone the way of Francie Nolan) I totally sympathized and understood why she went that direction.

It's no surprise that I love history -- so young Queenie's life in Blitz London was fascinating.  We see her getting shipped out to the country with her brother.  We see her coming back and eking her existence amidst the bombs, stealing and living quite well with the Green Bottles, an absolutely fabulous group of thieving ladies who helped raise Queenie.  There's also the tragic incident of the Bethnal Green tube station which I had never even heard of!

My only disappointment with the book is that after I had so much fun with the first part, the story sort of tapered off after that.  Which is funny because I've read a few reviews where some people had the opposite problem - slow start and then it picked up.  So it's all about perspective.  I also wanted more about the last heist (SPOILER if you click on link) which again was a historical event I had never heard of and was only regaled in the last twenty pages.  So fascinating though!

I think this book could appeal to a lot of different areas: if you like history, if you like social history or women's history, if you like fascinating character studies, or if you just like being entertained by a good yarn....


I found a different cover.  Isn't this gorgeous!  Which one do you like better?

You can also listen to an audio interview of Jill Dawson on the BBC Radio, Women's Hour

Jill’s Tour Stops

Tuesday, October 30th: Peppermint PhD
Thursday, November 1st: Unabridged Chick
Monday, November 5th: A Reader of Fictions
Wednesday, November 7th: A Library of My Own
Thursday, November 8th: Walking With Nora
Friday, November 9th: Tina’s Book Reviews
Monday, November 12th: The House of the Seven Tails
Tuesday, November 13th: West Metro Mommy
Wednesday, November 14th: Reflections of a Bookaholic
Thursday, November 15th: Jenny Loves to Read
Friday, November 16th: Creating Comfort

Friday, November 2, 2012

The Count of Monte Cristo Read-a-long

You all don't know how excited I am that the girls over at The Estella Society are doing The Count of Monte Cristo Read-a-long!  This is one of my all-time favorite books.  I've read it multiple times, made countless family members read it, and collect copies of it.  Yeah. Obsessed much? BUT -- it's been quite a few years and I haven't read it since I started blogging. So of course I am joining in.  I realize that being a mom and wife and all that goes into life I have limited time to read such a chunkster as well as my other books.  So I downloaded the audio book and am already on Chapter 7 -- whoohoo!

Just for fun, here's my stack of copies I own:

For some reason I can't find my original copy I got in high school - nothing special but it's irking me I can't find it. I might have loaned it out:
This is the inside of one of my old beat up copies I've acquired:

And the end paper of another old beat up copy:

I especially like finding old or unusual copies.  Although if anyone wants to get me this Barnes & Noble lovely I wouldn't stop you :)
It's also getting me in the mood to pick up Tom Reiss' new book about the real man behind the fictional story, Alexander Dumas' father:

Ever thought about reading this awesome classic?  Read it and want to read it again?  Join in!

Advent - James Treadwell

Title: Advent: A Novel
Author: James Treadwell
Hardcover: 448 pages
Publisher: Atria
Published date: July 2012
FTC: Requested from Atria

Atria Publishing company has a really cool Galley program they use and as a blogger I love seeing what they have available for request.  I picked three books and Advent was one of them.  I figured that a book with such a cool cover and the quote "Magic is rising" would be an awesome choice -- and it has a Deborah Harkness blurb on the cover too.  I was mostly right -- I loved most of the book but it kind of tapered off at the end.  This is going to be a trilogy so that's probably why I got that "eh?" feeling at the end.  I hate when trilogies do that.  Anyway -- for most of the book though I was HOOKED.  Let's see if I can blab about this one in any kind of coherent way...

The back of the book:

1537. A man hurries through city streets in a gathering snowstorm, clutching a box in one hand. He is Johann Faust, the greatest magician of his age. The box he carries contains a mirror safeguarding a portion of his soul and a small ring containing all of the magic in the world. Together, they comprise something unimaginably dangerous.

London, the present day. Fifteen-year-old Gavin Stokes is boarding a train to the countryside to live with his aunt. His school and his parents can't cope with him and the things he sees, things they tell him don't really exist. At Pendurra, Gavin finds people who are like him, who see things too. They all make the strange claim: magic exists, it's leaking back into our world, and it's bringing something terrible with it.

First in an astonishingly imaginative fantasy trilogy, Advent describes how magic was lost to humanity, and how a fifteen-year-old boy discovers that its return is his inheritance. It begins in a world recognizably our own, and ends an extraordinarily long way from where it started -- somewhere much bigger, stranger, and richer.

My thoughts:

Advent is a book mainly about Gavin Stokes and it's through his perspective we see events take place.  The story alternately flashes back in time to Johann Faust, the greatest magician in the world, who becomes a bit power crazed.  But it's Gavin's story that I loved and had me hooked.

Gavin kind of wants to be normal.  He's been seeing things he shouldn't for as long as he can remember.  His mom and especially his dad have no clue how to cope with what they see as childish antics so they ship him off to his kooky aunt who works at the odd country manor Pendurra.  (I know, another awesome story set in British manor -- The Little Stranger & The Orchid House.)  Gavin is an awesome character. I think if this book was ONLY about Gavin's journey growing up and discovering magic it would be one of my favorite books.  And to be clear, it's not a Harry Potter type of discovering magic -- no magic wands or spells....this is different, more real and definitely more terrifying.

While I wasn't as hooked by Johann Faust's story, I can see how it was needed.  And yes -- it's THAT Faust -- a real historical figure who is also the basis for a few plays where Faust makes a deal with the devil.  I kind of wish I had known more about the actual man and his legend before reading the story because it's really kind of weird.  There's actually a lot of the book towards the end that I think kind of went over my head -- legends and mythologies that I should maybe have known but really don't.  Let's just say that it starts to get weird -- like Pendurra is the site magic, legends, mythological creatures are starting to seep back into the world.

I also didn't like the way Advent ended.  The last eight pages, which weren't even the whole of the last chapter, took the reader to a whole different place.  Just a weird ending.  I get that it's going to be part of the next book but I think it should have been either sectioned off as an Afterward, a separate chapter at least, or left for the next book.

So it ended up being a tad bit of a disappointment -- mainly because for most of the book I LOVED it.  I just felt muddled at the end.  Sometimes I think that's the way I feel when I read a trilogy book.  You don't get that satisfying feeling at the end.  I also didn't like the Faust sections as well and a lot of the legend/mythological stuff kind of went over my head.

What do you think?  Does this book sound like a book you'd be interested in reading?  Do you like trilogies?  I think I'm going to give book #2 a try when it comes out and see where the story is going.

Here's an alternate cover that I don't like as much:

Also Reviewed By:

Serendipity Reviews

Thursday, November 1, 2012

R.I.P. VII Wrap Up

As usual I had a great time participating in Carl V's R.I.P. VII Experience. I still need to post some reviews but here's what all I read:

The Dark Unwinding - Sharon Cameron
Shadow and Bone - Leigh Bardugo
The Little Stranger - Sarah Waters
The Winter Ghosts - Kate Mosse (audio)
Advent - James Treadwell
The Merlot Murders - Ellen Crosby (audio)
Sister - Rosamund Lupton
Heat Wave - Richard Castle (audio)

I'll be looking forward to next year's Experience!  Just for fun here's a couple of photos.

Little Rocket last year as a pumpkin:

Little Rocket this year as a monkey:

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Sister - Rosamund Lupton

Title: Sister
Author: Rosamund Lupton
Paperback: 318 pages
Publisher: Broadway/Crown
Published date: 2011
FTC: requested or won from Shelf Awareness or Read It Forward (can't remember)

I'm normally pretty good about documenting where I get my books from.  I either requested or won this one but it hasn't been sitting on my shelf for very long. I do remember that I wanted to read it because I love books about family relationships - especially sisters.  I am fortunate to have had an awesome family life and am blessed with having a sister and a brother.  Now we may not always understand or get each other and there's been many a fight and even bloody nose mixed in there growing up -- but it's an amazing thing to be able to count on somebody to hop on the next plane and be by your side if you ever needed them.

Sister sounded like an interesting combination of a book about family relationships...and a murder mystery.  What a perfect moody read for Autumn and the R.I.P. experience.

Back of the book:

When Beatrice gets a frantic call that her younger sister, Tess, is missing, she immediately boards the first flight home to London. As she learns about the circumstances surrounding Tess's disappearance, Bee will risk everything to find out what really happened to her beloved younger sister. A suspenseful, thrilling story and a beautiful portrayal of the love between siblings with a knockout twist, Sister is a masterful debut.

My thoughts:

I love a back of the book synopsis that doesn't give away much.  If you are like me, that's all I needed to know to pick it up and delve right in.  If you want slightly more spoilers (of course not BIG spoilers) keep on reading -- dump out that coffee, brew up a cup of English breakfast tea and read on.

The first thing you must know is that this is Rosamund Lupton's first novel - she writes for television and film. That means that this book is beautifully visual. I love that the main part of the story takes place in London in winter and in and around Hyde Park (think a mini Central Park.)  Even though Las Vegas was in the eighties, I still felt the winter chill of London and wanted to cuddle up in a blanket and read.  I can still envision Tess's apartment and her little garden out back.

I also found the non-linear way she wrote the story to be perfect.  Beatrice is alternately telling her story to Tess in letter form which makes it very personal and telling her story to a lawyer to prepare for an upcoming trial.  I loved the letter parts to Tess - it made the sister relationship even more powerful and heartfelt. For never actually meeting Tess, I felt as if I knew her.  Every so often the story telling part to the lawyer felt a little drawn out (get on with the story so I can know who did it!), it actually helped the suspense part of the mystery and also slowed me down to savor Ms. Lupton's writing and world building.

Then there's the story.  I don't want to give too much away, but I loved the tenacity of Beatrice who knew there was something wrong and didn't let anyone stop her from finding the truth. It was a great twist on the traditional detective story.  Then there's Tess's story, which for an oddly beautiful art student, involves adultery, a stalker, pregnancy, gene therapy, cystic fibrosis...actually pretty fascinating.

All in all I thoroughly enjoyed this story - it was a mystery, a detective story, and most of all a story about relationships and family.  I am looking forward to picking up Ms. Lupton's second novel Afterwards.

Other covers:

What cover do you like best? I think I like this one the best.

This one is kind of boring to me:

Also Reviewed By:
Tell Me A Story
S. Krishna's Books
Kirkus Reviews

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Days of Splendor, Days of Sorrow GIVEAWAY!

I'm a day late in posting this but that's ok!  Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours is letting me give away one copy of Juliet Grey's second book in her Marie Antoinette trilogy.  You don't have to have read Becoming Marie Antoinette to enjoy this one (but it's good so you should.)  Please fill out the form below!  The giveaway is open through November 2nd and is only open in the US (sorry international readers!)

Good luck!

My reviews for Becoming Marie Antoinette & Days of Splendor, Days of Sorrow

Monday, October 22, 2012

Days of Splendor, Days of Sorrow - Juliet Grey

Title: Days of Splendor, Days of Sorrow
Author: Juliet Grey
Paperback: 399 pages
Publisher: Ballantine Books
Published date: May 2012
FTC: Received to review for HF Virtual Book Tours

When I was asked if I wanted to join in the tour for Juliet Grey's second Marie Antoinette book for Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours I was ecstatic. I adored her first book Becoming Marie Antoinette (my review) and even got a chance to chat with her over at Amy's awesome blog Passages to the Past. Juliet Grey's books are a beautiful combination of historical fact and fiction.  I fell in love with Marie Antoinette even more in this book. You can bet I will be looking forward to buying her last book in the trilogy, The Last October Sky.

(Come back tomorrow and I'll be giving away a copy of Days of Splendor, Days of Sorrow!!)

The back of the book:

Paris, 1774. At the tender age of eighteen, Marie Antoinette ascends to the French throne alongside her husband, Louis XVI. But behind the extravagance of the young queen's elaborate silk gowns and dizzyingly high coiffures, she harbors deep fears for her future and that of the Bourbon dynasty.

From the early growing pains of marriage to the joy of conceiving a child, from her passion for Swedish military attache Axel von Fersen to the devastating Affair of the Diamond Necklace, Marie Antoinette tries to rise above the gossip and rivalries that encircle her. But as revolution blossoms in America, a much larger threat looms beyond the gilded gates of Versailles -- one that could sweep away the French monarchy forever.

My thoughts:

I am an official fan of this trilogy. Well done Juliet Grey! What a story.  The book starts out with a bit of foreshadowing -- it's 1786 and an unnamed women is being tried and punished for her involvement with the royalty of France. Flash back to 1774 and Papa Roi (Louis's grandfather) has passed away which means Louis XVI and his wife Marie Antoinette will become the King and Queen (actually consort) of France.  I had no clue before reading this that the Queen of France really didn't have much power and only the King of France was "crowned" King.  In fact, reading these books I've learned a lot of things about this period in history that I had never known before. I really wish these books were around when I was learning about the French Revolution in college.

But the best part of the book is how much the story humanizes Marie Antoinette and her husband Louis XIV.  Most of the story is told in first person narrative which really made it an intimate story.  Interspersed are often letters to and from her maman, Maria Theresa of Austria.  We see how much she loved her family in Austria, but how much she came to find France and her husband her new family.  I loved her spunk -- she desperately wanted to have babies and a family but at the same time she was very much a young girl who was enjoying life which often got her into trouble.

It's such an interesting story because we all know what happens in the end. But somehow even with the forshadowing at the beginning and hints throughout about how it's going to end, I am like Marie Antoinette and just can't or won't believe that her people will turn on her and her family. Surprisingly too, I fell in love with her husband Louis XVI and feel the tragedy that the Revolution happened to a king who was so surprisingly human and full of desire to be a good king, husband, and father.

Juliet Grey has a pretty awesome section at the back of the book about writing Days of Splendor, Days of Sorrow and love this quote:

"As I breathed the life into characters who to some readers may be little more than names from a history book, I saw them as vibrant and vital, complex and flawed."

This is exactly what she accomplished.  Well done!

Marie Antoinette in Muslin

Head over to Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours for more bloggers reviewing this awesome book.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

The Little Stranger - Sarah Waters

Title: The Little Stranger
Author: Sarah Waters
Hardcover: 463 pages
Publisher: Riverhead Books/Penguin
Published date: 2009
FTC: bought at library book sale

Sarah Waters is an author I've been meaning to read for years.  I've accumulated all of her books except Affinity and have been needing an excuse to read one of her books. So when I heard through Carl's R.I.P. VII experience that Andi and Heather were hosting a Read-a-long of The Little Stranger at their blog Estella Society, I had to join along.

Bad me.  I read up to halfway a bit early - too early to post my halfway thoughts - and then I jumped the gun and had to finish it. So I failed at the "read-a-long" part but I succeeded in reading my first Sarah Waters novel and I thoroughly enjoyed it.  Talk about a well-written gothic ghost story. No wonder she is always getting shortlisted for the The Man Booker and The Orange Prizes.

Back of the Book:

With The Little Stranger, Waters revisits the fertile setting of Britain in the 1940s-and gives us a sinister tale of a haunted house, brimming with the rich atmosphere and psychological complexity that have become hallmarks of Waters's work.

The Little Stranger follows the strange adventures of Dr. Faraday, the son of a maid who has built a life of quiet respectability as a country doctor. One dusty postwar summer in his home of rural Warwickshire, he is called to a patient at Hundreds Hall. Home to the Ayres family for more than two centuries, the Georgian house, once grand and handsome, is now in decline-its masonry crumbling, its gardens choked with weeds, the clock in its stable yard permanently fixed at twenty to nine. But are the Ayreses haunted by something more ominous than a dying way of life? Little does Dr. Faraday know how closely, and how terrifyingly, their story is about to become entwined with his.

My thoughts:

I knew when I finally picked up one of Sarah Waters' novels, I would wonder why it ever took me so long to read one. I was totally right.  Pick up a glass of wine or a cup of english tea, settle into your couch, light a few mood candles for creepy effect, and delve into her gothic tale.

I loved it.  It's so weird because it's a book that takes SO incredibly long to tell the tale and as I was trying to describe it to my husband, I was really at loss for words on how to relate the story.  I just was hooked.  Sarah Waters is an amazing writer.  I got so wrapped up in the crumbling mansion, the absolute normalcy of the Ayres family as they just try to keep the estate going, and the "little stranger" aspect....awesome. The story is written all from Dr. Faraday's perspective and he seems or is such a respectable and likeable character.  For some reason I kept thinking of Dr. Faraday looking like Mr. Bates from Downton Abbey -- not your traditional handsome or young guy but someone you still root for nonetheless. I had a harder time pinning Caroline down until I finally pictured her like Kelly Macdonald.  It totally fit.  Roderick was super easy -- he's totally Harry Lloyd as Herbert Pocket from Great Expectations.  For some reason I'm on a huge kick of casting characters in my head as I read books.  Moving on...

I absolutely adored the theme of how upper class families with estates like these had such a hard time hanging on and managing them after the two world wars. Times were changing.  This seems like such an interesting theme lately that I hit on while reading The Orchid House (my review) as well.

My only problem with the book is probably the length.  I didn't really feel it's length until halfway through and then I had that nagging feeling of "where is this going?? and why is it taking so long??" but then it started to get more spooky so it was fine.  Still.  Cut a 100 pages or so and it'd still be awesome.

That and the ending.  But I'm not going to tell you unless you've read it so that means it's...

SPOILER TIME!!  I get to do this because of the read-a-long part :)

First of all -- how awesome is it that Dr Faraday was the narrator and at the end I just didn't know if he was lying to me, if he was deluding himself, or if it really was a ghost?  What do you think?  Do you think the Little Stranger was Dr Faraday, the ghost of the dead child, a different ghostly thing, the family just going nuts...???  I just don't know!!  And that's how it ends! You just don't know!! ARG! After I finished the book I rudely snapped the book shut and my husband looked up at me and my disgusted face and asked how it ended. I said "I don't know, it's one of those types of endings" a "cliff-hanger" almost.  I was annoyed.  But thinking back on it, I think I actually like the up in the air ending better than it all spelled out. It's so much creepier and disturbing that way.

As usual, if you head over to Carl's review of The Little Stranger and hit up his Spoiler section - he does an awesome job dissecting the thoughts and controversies over what we all think might have happened.  I like the idea of it being Dr Faraday's ghost -- seriously you have to head over there to see how that makes absolute sense.


So while at first I had serious issues with the ending, it ended up being perfect because as I see it, any book or ending that makes a ton of people want to discuss and blab about and Google other people's reaction seems like a winner to me.  Awesome job Sarah Waters.

Also Reviewed by:

Head over to Estella Society's Wrap up for a whole list of linky's

Friday, September 28, 2012

Comfort Food - Kate Jacobs

Title: Comfort Food
Author: Kate Jacobs
Paperback: 341 pages
Audiobook narrated by: Barbara Rosenblat
Publisher: Berkley/Penguin
Published date: 2008
FTC: won from Stephanie's Written Word - thank you!
Listened to the audiobook as a library rental

As I mentioned a while ago, I was reading some heavy books and in between I was needing lighter reads.  I fell in love with Erica Bauermeister's School of Essential Ingredients (my review) and was craving more foodie books.  I'd won Kate Jacobs' novel Comfort Food and have a few of her Knitting series books on my self to read as well.  This seemed like the perfect timing.  But instead of reading the book, I found that the library had the audiobook so I listened to Barbara Rosenblat's awesome narration while doing chores around the house.  While I was expecting something a la Bauermeister, I got something completely different but still entertaining and fun.

Back of the book:

Shortly before turning the big five-oh, Cooking with Gusto! TV personality Augusta "Gus" Simpson finds herself planning a birthday party she'd rather ignore -- her own.  To make things worse, the network wants to boost her ratings by teaming Gus with the beautiful, ambitious, and younger Carmen Vega -- the former Miss Spain, no less.

But Gus isn't going without a fight -- whether it's off set with her two demanding daughters, on camera with the vicious beauty queen herself, or after hours with Oliver, the new culinary producer who's raising Gus's temperature beyond the comfort zone. Now, in pursuit of higher ratings and culinary delights, Gus might be able to rejuvenate more than just her career.

My thoughts:

Some authors have this beautiful way of writing where I just want to eat the pages -- Erica Bauermeister, Sarah Addison Allen, and Laura Esquivel are just a few.  I was totally expecting one of those books because of the title. This is NOT one of those books. BUT! After I quickly realized that, I just sat back and enjoyed the yarn that Kate Jacobs spun. (I can totally see how she writes knitting novels too...pun intended.)

Gus Simpson is such a great character and in the audio book, Barbara Rosenblat was the perfect narrator. She has a kind of sweet gruff voice which reminded me of Kathleen Turner, and was perfect for a character who was turning 50 and in the middle of a mid-life crisis.  Her show may be cancelled, her daughters have left the nest and are struggling in their own lives, and her main competition at work is the beautiful Carmen Vega.  Barbara Rosenblat did an awesome job of narrating Carmen's voice -- I totally pictured the lovely Sofia Vergara as Carmen Vega.

The story is about families, falling in love, moving on, dealing with crises, and of  I just enjoyed the chaos of the story and the many side characters: the daughters who were annoyingly childish at times and still learning to fly the coop, Gus's best friend who is a recluse with a hidden past, and even Carmen Vega who's beauty still couldn't hide her insecurities.  And who doesn't love cooking shows?  I am so not a reality TV fan but I do enjoy cooking shows.  I'd love to see this book made into a movie because I want to check out the chaos that became her cooking show.

Extra stuff:

While I listened to the audiobook, I do own the paperback thanks to Stephanie's Written Word.  AND! My copy is signed :)

There's also a couple added recipes at the back of the book which I always love finding.  Mmmm.

Other covers:

Also Reviewed By:

Hey Lady! Whatcha Readin'?
Suko's Notebook

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The Mirrored World - Debra Dean

Title: The Mirrored World: A Novel
Author: Debra Dean
Hardcover: 243 pages
Publisher: HarperCollins
Published date: August 2012
FTC: Asked to review for TLC Book Tours

When I heard Debra Dean had a new novel, I jumped at the chance to join in the TLC Tour for her book.  I really enjoyed her previous novel The Madonnas of Leningrad (my review) which had garnered a lot of praise.  It was a bit of change to jump from my dark R.I.P. books and into a historical fiction, but I think that since I read the YA fantasy Shadow and Bone   with all it's Russian elements helped.  But I've always loved books set in Russia and once I was into the story I read it in just a few days.

My synopsis:

I usually just go with the publisher's synopsis because I normally think they do an awesome job of describing the book.  This time I'm not so sure.  If you want the normal Back of the Book, head over to TLC.  Here's my synopsis:

Set in 18th Century Russia, this story follows the life of  Dasha and her two cousins Xenia and Nadya who become almost like sisters to her.  Dasha tells the whole story from her perspective and looking back in time so there is a bit foreshadowing sometimes.  Dasha is the youngest and by far the plainest and most unassuming of the three.  Nadya, quite smug and the eldest gets married off first.  Dasha's obviously favorite cousin, though, is eccentric Xenia.  She does what she wants, quite often going against social conventions.  Xenia catches the eye of Andrei, a beautifully gifted singer in the Empress's choir, and the two are soon married.

The rest of the book is filled with Dasha looking at Xenia's almost idyllic life of being in love and married.  She witnesses the delayed but much anticipated birth of Xenia's baby girl and then the tragic deaths of Xenia's little family which causes Xenia to spiral into a deep depression followed by Xenia's becoming almost saint-like in giving away all her fortunes and living and serving among the poor.

My thoughts:

Just liked The Madonnas of Leningrad, Debra Dean proves herself to be a beautiful writer who just immerses me into the life and culture of Russia.  The first thing I just loved was all the interesting Russian events that happened.  For instance, the first part of the story where Dasha witnesses one of the Empress's advisers who had displeased her and was made the court jester and married off to a hunchback old lady and who were made to spend their wedding night in a frozen ice palace. Crazy! I kept getting confused too on who was Empress at the time -- Anna, Catherine, and bunch of odd rulers in between, but it seemed like it must have been a confusing time for the Russian people as well.

I find it odd that the back of the book synopsis doesn't even mention Dasha even though the entire book is written from her perspective.  I also didn't know until I had finished the book and was reading blurbs that Xenia was sainted.  It would be curious to read this book from a mental health perspective -- how in her insane grief she became a "holy fool" -- was she sane or did she really lose her sanity?  Was she really having visions?  It's all quite interesting.

My favorite part of the book actually had to with Dasha's life. While Xenia was interesting, I was wanting more stories about Dasha's life.  The stories included were really good and I enjoyed her character and how she kind of took Xenia's legacy and helped people as well.

My only complaint with this novel is pretty much what I had with The Madonnas of Leningrad.  It seems like Debra Dean is comfortable writing short stories and it comes out in her novels.  I had wished her previous novel was a bit fuller and longer.  I don't have a problem with the length of The Mirrored World but it did seem like a compilation of short stories...which in this case worked ok.  It's just not what I was expecting in a novel.

Debra’s Tour Stops

Tuesday, August 28th: Historical Tapestry - “Why I Love …” Guest Post
Wednesday, August 29th: Reflections of a Bookaholic
Thursday, August 30th: Unabridged Chick
Monday, September 3rd: Lit and Life
Wednesday, September 5th: Diary of an Eccentric
Thursday, September 6th: Booktalk & More
Monday, September 10th: The Book Garden
Wednesday, September 12th: Chaotic Compendiums
Thursday, September 13th: Man of La Book
Thursday, September 13th: No More Grumpy Bookseller
Monday, September 17th: BookNAround
Tuesday, September 18th: Twisting the Lens
Wednesday, September 19th: A Library of My Own
Thursday, September 20th: The Written World
Monday, September 24th: Broken Teepee
Tuesday, September 25th: West Metro Mommy
Wednesday, September 26th: Peeking Between the Pages
Thursday, September 27th: Raging Bibliomania

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Restoration: A Novel - Olaf Olafsson

Title: Restoration: A Novel
Author: Olaf Olafsson
Paperback: 307 pages
Publisher: Ecco/Harper Collins
Published date: February 2012
FTC: Requested ARC for review

Isn't this just a gorgeous cover?  I always have this totally unrealistic dream of living on an Italian villa and making wine.  Pair this cover with a story about a villa in Tuscany during WWII and it sounded like my kind of book.  Gorgeous setting, gorgeous writing, but wow, what a sad tale.

Back of the book:

Having grown up in the exclusive circle of wealthy British ex-pats in Florence in the 1920s, Alice shocks everyone when she marries Claudio, the son of a minor landowner, and moves to San Martino, a crumbling villa in Tuscany. Settling into their new paradise, husband and wife begin to build their future, restoring San Martino and giving birth to a son.

But as time passes, Alice grows lonely, a restlessness that leads her into the heady social swirl of wartime Rome and a reckless affair that will have devastating consequences. While she spends time with her lover in Rome, Alice's young son falls ill and dies, widening the emotional chasm between her and her husband -- and leaving her vulnerable to the machinations of a nefarious art dealer who ensnares her in a dangerous and deadly scheme.

Returning to San Martino, Alice yearns for forgiveness. But before she can begin to make amends, Claudio disappears, and the encroaching fighting threatens to destroy everything they have built. Caught between loyalists and resisters, cruel German forces and Allied troops, Alice valiantly struggles to survive, hoping the life and love she lost can one day be restored.

My thoughts:

The back of the book makes this sound as if the whole story is just from Alice's perspective but in reality there are two narrators in the book: Alice, telling her story in journal form to her missing Claudio so there's a lot of going back into the past with her, and Kristin, an artist working in Rome as an apprentice to Marshall, the art dealer, where she does restorations to paintings.  Both of these women's perspectives are fascinating and they actually kind of mirror each other in certain ways.

I was expecting a WWII book set in the background of a Tuscan villa.  What I got was Alice's and Kristin's stories with WWII in the background as a catalyst that brings them together and sets certain events in motion.  Alice has this seemingly beautiful life with a man she loves and they've brought life and prosperity to a once crumbling villa.  But she ruins it all by having an affair with a friend from her past -- she is even absent when her beloved child succumbs to an illness and dies.  It's so absolutely tragic and sad.  Then there's Kristin, this unbelievably talented painter from Iceland.  She goes to Rome to apprentice to the art dealer Marshall, a married and (to me) mentally damaging man who uses his position to take her as a mistress.  Both women got themselves into this huge mess but my heart still went out to what they were going through.

I think I almost enjoyed Kristin's perspective the best. I just really felt for her.  I don't want to give it away but there's this whole thing with her and a lost Caravaggio which is really an awesome part of the story.

The World War II background in the novel is really quite fascinating as well.  I was reading the Acknowledgments in the back of the book and found he did a lot of research and that this was based an actual real life story.  He read the diary of Iris Origo which was published as War in Val d'Orcia.  There's also a biography of Iris Origo by Caroline Moorehead.  Both of these books sound fascinating.  I guess I never really thought about the farms, villas, etc which had to go on trying to produce crops and feed families while a war is raging around them.  There's also a lot written about the fate of European works of art which were ravaged, stolen, destroyed, or hidden during WWII.  He used The Rape of Europa which has been on my to-read list for a while now.

Also Reviewed By:
Pudgy Penguin Perusals
The Literate Housewife

Saturday, September 15, 2012

The Orchid House - Lucinda Riley

Title: The Orchid House
Author: Lucinda Riley
Paperback: 447 pages
Publisher: Atria/Simon & Schuster
Published date: US edition Feb 2012
FTC: Received for signing up for Simon & Schuster's Book Club

I was immediately hooked by the beautiful cover.  With my version the only difference is there's a "International Bestseller" thing on the front and a blurb from ELLE Germany.  What a great book choice for a book club.  I mean the writing was absolutely amazing and completely absorbed me into the story.  The 447 pages just flew by.  There were aspects and characters in the story that I loved and hated.  This was such a hard review to write that I included a SPOILERS section where I could rant and rave.  That said, I would definitely pick up another one of Lucinda Riley's books.

Back of the Book:

As a child, concert pianist Julia Forrester spent many idyllic hours in the hothouse of Wharton Park, the grand estate where her grandfather tended exotic orchids. Years later, while struggling with the overwhelming grief over the death of her husband and young child, she returns to the tranquil place. There she reunites with Kit Crawford, heir to the estate and her possible salvation.

When they discover an old diary, Julia seeks out her grandmother to learn the truth behind a love affair that almost destroyed the estate. Their search takes them back to the 1940s when Harry, a former heir to Wharton Park, married his young society bride, Olivia, on the eve of World War II. When the two lovers are cruelly separated, the impact will be felt for generations to come.

This atmospheric story alternates between the magical world of Wharton Park and Thailand during World War II. Filled with twists and turns, passions and lies, and ultimately redemption, The Orchid House is a beautiful, romantic, and poignant novel.

My thoughts:

The first thing you must know is that this is a UK book so you can really tell with some of the wording and phrases.  The writing is just so beautiful and so engaging that I can picture it all in my head still.  I fell in love with the modern characters of Julia and Kit.  Julia's grief was so real and it really hit home. One of my biggest fears is of losing my husband and child.

I love WWII stories so of course the flashback to Harry, Olivia and Harry's time in Thailand was just perfect.  Not often do I find a well balanced book that has flashbacks or goes back in time and this is one of those few.  My biggest problem with the book is that I just couldn't like Harry.  I just wanted to slap him repeatedly -- and yell at Olivia for getting herself into her mess.  I don't want to give much away here but  really that's where I just wanted to throw the book.

I think it's curious that a few of my last reads involve an aging English estate -- The Orchid House has Wharton Park and The Little Stranger has The Hundreds.  It's really putting me in the whole Downton Abbey mood.  I love it.  Brew me up some English breakfast tea with a bit of milk and sugar and sign me up for another moody British estate book.  Anyone have any suggestions?

Ok.  Now for the SPOILERS!!!! 

I really want to discuss all the ups and downs of this book --- and the TWISTS and surprises!  I read this book with the mindset of discussing it with people so I have to blab all my thoughts.  Here we go:

First the characters.  Harry.  Who all LIKED Harry?  I think we were supposed to feel sympathy for Harry but man, I just couldn't.  First he thinks he might be gay and then figures out oh no he isn't AFTER he gets married and then is surprised when Olivia is all upset.  Then his description of Lidia (who by the way I did really love) was kind of pervy to me.  I mean she's barely an adult and all of his descriptions are of a child. Gross.  I was also offended for Olivia how he compared perfect petit Lidia to oxhorse Olivia (who really was a knockout).  Then there's Olivia who - no offense but how was she not surprised that her marriage ended up all wonky.  Harry never said he loved her, wouldn't sleep with her, was caught kissing a guy, and really Olivia, you really married Harry because you fell in love with Wharton Park.  Deal with it.

Now for the twists.  I saw all of them coming -- ALL of them except Julia's husband thing.  Really?  I kind of wish there was a way that Lucinda Riley could have had Julia get passed her mourning and move on with her life then have a crappy alcoholic husband come back from the dead and dash her "oh he was so perfect after he was dead" thoughts.  Kind of weak.  Though I saw it coming (Harry and Julia were awesome pianists), did anyone find it kind of off-putting that Julia and Kit were related? Gross.

As for the ending, I thought with Lidia showing up and saving the day to be a little too, well, neat. How she just happens to have a ton of money and can save Wharton Park.  Hmmm.

Ok. I think that's about it for my rants and raves.  If you've read this book and want to blab with me, please do so! Just make sure you note any spoilers!



So the above book and cover I have is the US Atria/Simon & Schuster edition.  The UK edition is called Hothouse Flower and looks like this:

Other versions



Which cover do you prefer?

Also Reviewed By:
S. Krishna's Books