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

Friday, September 14, 2012

Shadow and Bone - Leigh Bardugo

Title: Shadow and Bone (The Grisha #1)
Author: Leigh Bardugo
Paperback: 356 pages (ARE version)
Publisher: Henry Holt/Macmillan Children's
Published date: June 2012
FTC: Received ARE from Fierce Reads

O my gosh.  People go out and buy/rent/borrow whatever this book.  I have a friend who I recommend a few books now and then -- like Hunger Games, Divergent, Cinder....and I've just added this one to the list.  I just read too that the Harry Potter producer is going to be making this one into a movie for Dreamworks.  So yeah.  You know it's going to be good.  Ms Bardugo, please please write and release the next books in the series soon!

Back of the book:

Surrounded by enemies, the once-great nation of Ravka has been torn in two by the Shadow Fold, a swath of near-impenetrable darkness crawling with monsters who feast on human flesh. Now fate may rest on the shoulders of one unlikely refugee.

Alina Starkov has never been good at anything. But when her regiment is attacked on the Fold and her best friend is brutally injured, Alina reveals a dormant power that saves his life -- a power that could be the key to setting her war-ravaged country free. Wrenched from everything she knows, Alina is whisked away to the royal court to be trained as a member of the Grisha, the magical elite led by the mysterious Darkling.

Yet nothing in this lavish world is what it seems. With darkness looming and an entire kingdom depending on her untamed power, Alina will have to confront the secrets of the Grisha...and the secrets of her heart.

My thoughts:

Ok the first thing you have to know is that this is a YA book.  So while it is an awesome and amazingly fun tale, it's not going to be a book by say George R.R. Martin or Robert Jordan -- although those guys would have done an amazing job at this tale too.  But I love Ms Bardugo's YA spin on the fantasy story which, for all the fantasy elements, keeps you completely rooted in the story and loving every minute of it.

I love Alina's character.  Absolutely adored the realistic way she was portrayed.  I love that there are some awesome YA books out there now with kick butt heroines.  In the story, Alina and Mal were orphaned due to the crazy century old war that's been going on.  Raised together they both joined up with the army.  I couldn't help but think Harry Potter with the orphan story but then it switches almost into Starship Troopers with the characters now facing adulthood and in the army.  So while it's YA these characters aren't children.  Her best friend Mal (how can you not fall for a character named Mal -- thanks Joss Whedon for that one) is just awesome - handsome, charming, takes care of Alina and is completely oblivious to her growing crush on him.  I can't wait to see how these characters come across in a movie.  So while Alina heads off to become developed as a Grisha in what sounds like a Harry Potter "school of magic" kind of way -- I never once felt as if Ms Bardugo was borrowing on any  other stories.  Shadow and Bone was completely well done and an awesome story of its own.

I love the world Ms Bardugo sets up.  It's got the cool (to me) foreignness of Russia a few centuries ago but with all the fun fantasy elements.  There's a feudal air about the whole thing which works perfectly -- especially for me who loves historical fiction.  And while there's a slight learning curve to figure out who all the Grisha are and what the country of Ravka is like -- there is a helpful map and Grisha list. So it's not difficult to figure out.

Head over to Leigh Bardugo's website to find a slew of fun things -- maps, recipes, pronunciation guides, and a bunch of stuff that will be coming up like Swag and Tsarpunk! (how cool does that sound?!).

Extra stuff:

So my version was the ARE version with a totally different cover that they ended up changing to the cool Russian-vibey one above.  Here's mine with the crescent symbol of the Darkling:

I also loved the beautiful decorations in the book.  This is my ARE version so I'm curious to see how the actual book looks like.

Check out the video trailer for the book:

 Also if you head over to the Fierce Reads Facebook page right now they are doing a giveaway of the book, autographed and a bunch of swag.

Also Reviewed By:

Becky's Book Reviews
The Book Nest
I am a Reader, Not a Writer