Monday, March 26, 2012

Enchantments - Kathryn Harrison

Title: Enchantments
Author: Kathryn Harrison
Hardcover: 320 pages (my version is ARC paperback)
Publisher: Random House
Published date: March 6, 2012
FTC:  Received for review for TLC Book Tours

When I was asked if I wanted to join in the TLC Book Tour for Kathryn Harrison's new novel Enchantments, I jumped at the chance.  It's a historical fiction set in revolutionary Russia and and narrated by Rasputin's oldest daughter.  I have long been fascinated by this period in Russia's history.  My ancestors on both sides of my mother's were Germans living in Russia who emigrated to the United States just before the Bolshevik Revolution.  So perhaps it stems from thought about what would have happened to my family had they stayed?  I have have a huge desire to see St Petersburg and just like any other history buff -- the sad fate of the Romanov family is so moving.

The synopsis:

St. Petersburg, 1917. After Rasputin’s body is pulled from the icy waters of the Neva River, his eighteen-year-old daughter, Masha, is sent to live at the imperial palace with Tsar Nikolay and his family—including the headstrong Prince Alyosha. Desperately hoping that Masha has inherited Rasputin’s miraculous healing powers, Tsarina Alexandra asks her to tend to Aloysha, who suffers from hemophilia, a blood disease that keeps the boy confined to his sickbed, lest a simple scrape or bump prove fatal.

Two months after Masha arrives at the palace, the tsar is forced to abdicate, and Bolsheviks place the royal family under house arrest. As Russia descends into civil war, Masha and Alyosha grieve the loss of their former lives, finding solace in each other’s company. To escape the confinement of the palace, they tell stories—some embellished and some entirely imagined—about Nikolay and Alexandra’s courtship, Rasputin’s many exploits, and the wild and wonderful country on the brink of an irrevocable transformation. In the worlds of their imagination, the weak become strong, legend becomes fact, and a future that will never come to pass feels close at hand.

Mesmerizing, haunting, and told in Kathryn Harrison’s signature crystalline prose, Enchantments is a love story about two people who come together as everything around them is falling apart.

My thoughts:

I will be honest and say that I haven't finished the book quite yet.  It's not that it isn't a engrossing read -- just sometimes life gets in the way.  When I am finished I will do a follow-up post at the end.

Right now, about halfway through I am throughly enchanted with Kathryn Harrison's writing.  Masha, Rasputin's daughter, sits with young Alyosha and tells him stories about his family, about her family, and what an absolutely fantastic teller of tales she is.

You can not read about the Romanov family - sitting in exile in their palace with just a few loyal servants as their world crumbles and their fate hangs in the balance - and not be pulled into the story.  From Kathryn Harrison's writing, as well as the historical truth about what happened to the family, there is absolutely no doubt that this family was royalty.  They faced all their trials and tribulations with almost unnerving calm.

Reading this, I will never think of the young Prince Alyosha in the same light.  Kathryn Harrison gave him such a realistic and true personality.  Can you imagine this child, growing up the petted and royal hope for the Romanov family, stricken first with hemophilia, and then murdered when he was just shy of his fourteenth birthday.

It's bittersweet to read about the courtship of Alyosha's parents, to read about his sisters sledding on tea trays, and to hear Alyosha's voice - so full of questions and interest - and all along know the fate of this beautiful family.  Here's Alyosha (or Prince Alexei as I've heard of him) with his father:

So far the only parts of the book I'm not just swept away with are the narrations of Grigori Rasputin's life.  Perhaps it's unfounded, but Rasputin has always creeped me out.  Just look at the guy:

Masha, Rasputin's daughter -- while mourning her father's death (he was poisoned, shot, clubbed and drowned) -- even she can't put him in a favorable light.  Still, Rasputin is such a fascinating character -- an illiterate, dirty, often drunk, and sexually promiscuous -- but able to pull off being perceived as a holy man, healer, and prophet.

While reading this novel, I've added another place I want to visit:  Tsarskoe Selo -- the palace where the Romanov family were held for a while.  I grabbed this photo from wikipedia but seriously Google the place.  Beautiful!

Side notes:

Masha, or Maria/Matryone Rasputin, was a real person who lived to an old age and even wrote about her father.  I am quiet curious about what she wrote.  Here's a photo with her mother and father (she's three/four years older in the book):

While Googling stuff I found this gorgeous alternate cover:

Kathryn Harrison’s TLC Book Tours TOUR STOPS:
Monday, March 5th:  Unabridged Chick
Tuesday, March 6th:  Chaotic Compendiums
Wednesday, March 7th:  The Literate Housewife Review
Thursday, March 8th:  Dolce Bellezza
Monday, March 12th:  Broken Teepee
Tuesday, March 13th:  Luxury Reading
Thursday, March 15th:  The Lost Entwife
Monday, March 19th:  Let Them Read Books
Friday, March 23rd:  The Muse in the Fog Book Review
Saturday, March 24th:  Stiletto Storytime
Monday, March 26th:  A Library of My Own
Wednesday, March 28th:  Col Reads
Thursday, March 29th:  Life in Review
Friday, April 6th:  Library of Clean Reads

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

The Dispatcher - Ryan David Jahn

Title: The Dispatcher
Author: Ryan David Jahn
Paperback: 351 pages
Publisher: Penguin
Published date: 2011
FTC: Reviewed for TLC book tours

I decided to read and review Ryan David Jahn's book The Dispatcher because - well let's face it- the setting is in East Texas and that was fascinating to me.  You may recall that this Colorado/Alaskan/among a lot of other states girl married a Texas boy.  I had never even been to Texas when we met but a couple of years ago I got the chance to tour Texas with him and while it might not be my first choice, (Colorado mountains and then Hawaii) Texas totally grew on me.   We've been back since to visit my mother-in-law in East Texas and it's quite the possibility that someday in the future I'll live there.  So.

East Texas

Then I'll admit that I might be a oddity in girl-world for liking some non-girlish things.  For instance -- when I read on the back that it's probably a cross between No Country for Old Men and Quentin Tarantino -- I'll admit I was intrigued.

Back of the book:

Ian Hunt is a police dispatcher in East Texas.  Just as his shift is ending he gets the call from his fourteen-year-old daughter -- who was declared dead four months earlier.

The call is cut off by the man who snatched her from her bedroom when she was seven.  A basic description of the kidnapper is all Ian has to go on.

The trail leads to a local couple, but this is just the start of Ian's fight to get his daughter back.  What follows is a bullet-strewn cross-country chase from Texas to California along Interstate 10 -- a wild ride in a 1965 Mustang that passes through the outlaw territory of No Country for Old Men and is shot through with moments of macabre violence that call to mind the novels of Thomas Harris.

My thoughts:

Wow.  Just typing that I realized I didn't get to the part of "Thomas Harris" and have never heard of him.  Googling now.  O wow! Silence of the Lambs guy!  Crazy.  Ok.

Good book.  Good story.  Good writing.  Not so good for a stay-at-home-mom to be reading about child abduction while alone in the house during the day.  Hello!  But still -- I totally sucked it up.  I still think it's a "guy" book.  I was just telling my husband about it now and now he's going to read it.

You must be aware that there is a lot of disturbing things in this book -- a child abduction and the body count does start piling up.  There are also time where I just wanted to slap Ian Hunt and the tiny Texas police force.  I definitely wouldn't have handled the whole situation like they did.

Psychologically, there are quite a few interesting characters.  What would you do if you were Ian Hunt and knew who took your daughter and that he still has her?  How would you mentally survive being a kidnapped 7 year old and held in a basement for 7 years?  The book's perspectives were fascinating because I was expecting a single point of view.  Instead, we are in the heads of Ian Hunt, Maggie (the kidnapped girl), the abductor, and Diego Peña (another cop).  By jumping around to the characters you really see all their perspectives and it's quite fascinating.


I was at a library book sale last week and found a copy of The Dispatcher just like the one I have.  Interested?  Fill out the form below.  The contest will run through March 26th and is open Internationally.  Good luck!!

Ryan David Jahn’s TLC Book Tours TOUR STOPS:

Monday, February 13th:  Chaotic Compendiums
Thursday, February 16th:  A Bookworm’s World
Monday, February 20th:  Life in Review
Wednesday, February 22nd:  Reading on a Rainy Day
Wednesday, February 29th:  Dan’s Journal
Thursday, March 1st:  Wordsmithonia
Tuesday, March 6th:  Man of La Book
Thursday, March 8th:  Crime Fiction Lover
Monday, March 12th:  Book Addict Katie
Tuesday, March 13th:  The House of Crime and Mystery
Wednesday, March 14th:  A Library of My Own
Wednesday, March 14th:  Unabridged Chick
Thursday, March 15th:  Mockingbird Hill Cottage
Monday, March 19th:  Raging Bibliomania
Wednesday, March 21st:  Fiction Addict

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

The Help - Kathryn Stockett

Title: The Help
Author: Kathryn Stockett
Paperback: 530 pages
Publisher: Penguin
Published date: 2009
FTC: I bought at Sam's Club

My friend and I were supposed to read this book together and then watch the movie which was coming out on DVD.  I totally failed and didn't read it when I should have.  I am promising my friend that the NEXT time we do this I PROMISE to read it when I should.

For those who have been in a deep dark hole and haven't heard about The Help:

Back of the book:

Aibileen is a black maid in 1962 Jackson, Mississippi, raising her seventeenth white child. She's always taken orders quietly, but lately it leaves her with a bitterness she can no longer bite back. Her friend Minny has certainly never held her tongue, or held on to a job for very long, but now she's working for a newcomer with secrets that leave her speechless. And white socialite Skeeter has just returned from college with ambition and a degree but, to her mother's lament, no husband. Normally Skeeter would find solace in Constantine, the beloved maid who raised her, but Constantine has inexplicably disappeared.

Together, these seemingly different women join to work on a project that could forever alter their destinies and the life of a small town -- to write, in secret, a tell-all book about what it's really like to work as a black maid in the white homes of the South. Despite the terrible risks they will have to take, and the sometimes humorous boundaries they will have to cross, these three women unite with one intention: hope for a better day.

My thoughts:

I'll admit that I too agree that this is a very well written book and I fell in love with the characters.  The chapters alternate points of view between Skeeter, Minny, and Aibileen giving a much wider perspective than if it was just through one character's eyes.

That said -- and I'm not sure if it's the movie's trailers (I haven't seen the movie yet) -- but it feels a little too "and they all live happily ever after" to me.  A little bit as if history was painted over just a tad - that beautiful yellow on the cover.  I mean these ladies weren't just risking their jobs to write this "tell-all" but they were risking their and everyone else's lives!  To Kathryn Stockett's credit, the book does bring up that risk -- it just seems a little too glossy.  Again - this could just be my thoughts from watching the trailer where racial segregations seems to all come to an end with a nice big hug at the end of a two minute trailer.

That said --- it is a very accessible book about the subject.  I can totally see how this would make an excellent conversational book for a book club or even just a couple friends to discuss.  It is a very very well written book and I was completely engrossed the whole time.

I kept thinking of a past book I had read that takes place in Jackson, Mississippi during the same exact time period -- only this book is through the eyes of a white girl who's dad participated in the Klan.   The book is The Queen of Palmyra by Minrose Gwin (my review).  If you've read The Help and are interested about the time period and subject matter, I recommend you try The Queen of Palmyra.  It's darker but seemingly more realistic.

More thoughts:

Even though I haven't seen the movie, I am thinking that it was beautifully cast because I totally pictured these as the characters (from the movie website):




Also Reviewed by:

Fyrefly's Book Blog

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Books galore

I haven't done a books I've recently acquired post in a long while so I thought I'd snap some photos and share!

Here's a couple books I won recently.

White Seed: The Untold Story of the Lost Colony of Roanoke - Paul Clayton
I won this awesome book from Michelle over at Historical Fiction Connection.  I've always been intrigued by the mysterious lost colony.

The Turning of Anne Merrick - Christine Blevins
A book about a woman who spied for Washington during the American Revolution = awesome, right?  Plus it came with an extremely cool pack of stationary and candles.  A big thanks to The Owl Bookmark Blog and to Christine Blevins for the giveaway.  Head over to here to find a list of tours and other giveaways for this book.

The Last Storyteller - Frank Delaney
I won this beautiful Irish novel - autographed! - from Marie over at Burton Book Reviews.  She told me I should definitely check out his previous novel Ireland which I just found a few days ago at the library book sale.  Awesome, right!  Perfect timing for St. Patrick's Day coming up.

Here's some more books I found at the library book sale (obviously I love historical fiction.)

Undaunted Courage - Stephen E. Ambrose
The Gates of the Alamo - Stephen Harrigan
Dragon's Lair - Sharon Kay Penman
Poison - Sara Poole
A Reliable Wife - Robert Goolrick

More library sale books:

The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing (audio books 1 & 2)
The Wandering Heart - Mary Malloy
Through a Glass Darkly - Karleen Koen

Can you believe I found this at the library book sale?  Beautiful!

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie - Muriel Spark (The Folio Society)

It has some pretty cool pictures too:

Since I became a mom, I have a whole new set of books that are a must-have for me.

I checked out The Healthy Baby Meal Planner at the library and it's been a must-have reference for me to man up and start making my own baby food.  Super easy! I finally have a use for the Magic Bullet I bought a few years ago.

Annabel Karmel's book is by far the best baby food book I checked out.  I love that there are a ton of recipes AND photos:

I bought Favorite Fairy Tales at Ross's for just six bucks and I love it.  I'm not sure if Rocket will enjoy it as much as I do - but just check out the beautiful illustrations:

Sleeping Beauty - my favorite fairy tale

Goldilocks and the Three Bears

Puppies and Kittens is Rocket's favorite book - he loves animals and anything with texture.

Ok, that's all for now!!