Thursday, September 14, 2017

Burial Rites by Hannah Kent

“I can turn to that day as though it were a page in a book. It’s written so deeply upon my mind I can almost taste the ink.” 

Hannah Kent's Burial Rites is one of those books that sticks with you long after you've turned the last page. I remember finishing this book and feeling utterly depleted- in a good way! You know that feeling, after you've immersed yourself entirely in a story and then its just....over. I couldn't let go of Agnes, the brutal coldness of Iceland or the feeling of isolation Agnes felt while living with the hardworking family who kept her until her trial. A story based on the life of the last woman executed in Iceland, Agnes Magnudottir, and the events leading up to the crime that she is accused of. 

"To know what a person has done, and to know who a person is, are very different things." 

Told in multiple narrative (Agnes, the priest called to talk with Agnes and the mother of the family keeping Agnes before her trial), Burial Rites plays on what is good and evil, the ethics of capital punishment and what it means to judge another person. I found Agnes's narrative to be the most compelling and it was her character that I have been unable to let go of, even after all this time. The bleak surroundings as well as the future in front of Agnes means this is not a lighthearted or happy story. But its message is sound and its story compelling, in a way that holds on to you.

A few of my favorite quotes: 

“Any woman knows that a thread, once woven, is fixed in place; the only way to smooth a mistake is to let it all unravel.” 

“God has had His chance to free me, and for reasons known to Him alone, He has pinned me to ill fortune, and although I have struggled, I am run through and through with disaster; I am knifed to the hilt with fate.” 

“I remain quiet. I am determined to close myself to the world, to tighten my heart and hold what has not yet been stolen from me. I cannot let myself slip away. I will hold what I am inside, and keep my hands tight around all the things I have seen and heard, and felt.” 

Burial Rites by Hannah Kent 
314 pages
Published by Little Brown 


Friday, September 8, 2017

Stay With me by Ayobami Adebayo

Stay With Me is Ayobami Adebayo's debut novel about a marriage between two people in Nigeria, a marriage based on lies and the deepest desire to have children in a culture where bearing children is put above loyalty in a marriage.

When I read the summary for Stay With Me, I knew it was going to be an emotional story but I had no idea the scope of heartache I would feel throughout my reading. My heart hurt in equal parts for Yejide, who wants nothing more than to bear a child of her own and for her husband Akin, who's infertility causes such self destruction its almost hard to read with each turn of the page. They both desire the same thing, yet are unable to be open and honest with each other about their heartache.

"It was the lie Id believed in the beginning. Yejide would have a child and we would be happy forever. The cost didn't matter. It didn't matter how many rivers we had to cross. At the end of it all was this stretch of happiness that was supposed to begin only after we had children and not a minute before." p.221

I had to take quite a few breaks throughout my reading of Stay With Me, to cope with my own emotions and process what was happening in the story. Yejide's life is full of devastating losses and heartbreak, so much so that those final pages made my heart ache for her and all that she had lost.

As someone who has dealt with infertility and the desire for children in her own marriage, watching Yejide and Akin struggle was what left me the most emotionally scarred. Everyone handles the struggle of wanting children in their own way and Akin's choice of building a marriage around his lie was the worst thing he could have done. It hurt my heart to watch Yejide discover his lies and see how that affected her own thoughts about herself.

"But the biggest lies are often the ones we tell ourselves. I bit my tongue because I did not want to ask questions. I did not ask questions because I did not want to know the answers. It was convenient to believe m husband was trustworthy; sometimes faith is easier than doubt." P. 233

I'm so glad I read this book, as much as it made my heart hurt and brought a lot of my own emotions to the surface. Thank you to aaknopf for the copy!! I would recommend this book to anyone looking for a story outside their comfort zone, set in a place you're unfamiliar with. Especially if you don't mind shedding a few tears along the way.


Memorable quotes: 

"Besides, what would be left of love without truth stretched beyond its limits, without those better versions of ourselves that we present as the only ones that exist?" p. 75

"The reasons why we do the things we do will not always be the ones that others will remember. Sometimes I think we have children because we want to leave behind someone who can explain who we were to the world when we are gone." p. 119

"You can never cover the truth. Just as nobody can cover the sun's rays with his hands, you can never cover the truth." p.202



Stay With Me by Ayobami Adebayo
260 pages
Published by Aaknopf




Saturday, September 2, 2017

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

I waited anxiously all summer to read Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng, holding on to my ARC copy from Penguin Press and hoping I would have time to read it before my baby was born. Thankfully I did, I ended up finishing it the first weekend we were home from the hospital, during nursing sessions.
"All up and down the street the houses looked like any others- but inside them were people who might be happy, or taking refuge, or steeling themselves to go out into the world, searching for something better." p. 366

One of my favorite things about this story is that it takes place in Shaker Heights, near Cleveland. There were so many references that I could nod my head at and say "YES", like Chagrin Falls and the depressing weather of NE Ohio. Among other things! It really made the story feel more personal, like it was all taking place the next street over from me. 

Celeste Ng has written a powerful family drama with Little Fires Everywhere, one I wasn't able to put down (until I had to!) and created a cast of characters I won't soon forget. I really appreciated Izzy, the youngest sister of the Richardson family and the one misunderstood by most everyone other than Mia Warren. I knew her character was going to evolve and grow throughout the story as she rebelled against the strict black and white morals and perfectly mowed lawns of her life in Shaker Heights. She was by far my favorite character. 

As I read this book I felt an overwhelming feeling as though I was spying on all of the characters through a window of their house, taking a peek into their worst moments and thoughts (looking at you Elena Richardson). Trying to make sense of what makes each of them "tick". What I thought was brilliant was that final scene, where the photographer, Mia, leaves each of Richardsons a photograph. It was like Mia had a glimpse into that window but was also able to figure out each of them. The photographs were extremely personal and telling and I felt this was an excellent bit of closure for her time with their family and all that had occurred. Hopefully a lesson learned on their part as well.

"All her life, she had learned that passion, like fire, was a dangerous thing. It so easily went out of control. It scaled walls and jumped over trenches. Sparks leapt like fleas and spread as rapidly; a breeze could carry embers for miles. Better to control that spark and pass it carefully from one generation to the next, like an Olympic torch. Or perhaps, to tend it carefully like an eternal flame: a reminder of light and goodness that would never- could never- set anything ablaze. Carefully controlled. Domesticated. Happy in captivity." p.174

Overall, I rated this book 4 stars and am excited to share it with other readers! The symbolism of those "little fires" at the beginning of the story really hit home by the time I turned the last page- and thats what I think makes for a brilliant and well written story. I think we all need to take more time to light our own little fires (figuratively of course) and possibly change someones perspective or life. 

Thanks again to Penguin Press for my ARC! Little Fires Everywhere will be out September 12th! 


384 pages
Published by Penguin Press

Thursday, August 31, 2017

The Lesser Bohemians by Eimear McBride


The Lesser Bohemians by Eimear McBride is the story of a young girl during her first year of drama school and the relationship she has with a twenty year older man that takes place in London during the mid 1990's.

Reading the synopsis on Goodreads, a few reviews and the back of the book I was convince this was a book I was going to enjoy escaping into. A love story, coming of age in a big city, all the hallmarks of something I would normally not be able to put down.

What the synopsis and back of the book did not disclose is McBride's writing style. Written in an almost string of consciousness method, where sentences are met with phrases met with just a word or two in almost a poetic sort of way. This style of writing, to me, is incredibly challenging. I feel like I have to work hard to "get" the story, let alone understand any sort of deeper meaning that the author intended. Feeling frustrated that I was simply rereading certain sections over and over and not really understanding what was going on, I decided to put the book down for a bit.

Unfortunately the writing style really made it hard for me to finish the book and I hope theres a point later on when I will have the ability to really focus on the reading, possibly rereading and absorbing more slowly what the author intended. Right now, this just isn't the book for me.

Have you read this? I'm curious to read more reviews and see what other readers were able to take away from this book.

Thank you to Hogarth books for the copy in exchange for an honest review!



The Lesser Bohemians by Eimear McBride
336 pages
Published by Hogarth

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

The History of Bees by Maja Lunde


"Without bees, the flowers were just flowers, not blueberries, not bread and butter."

Review:
The History of Bees by Maja Lunde is one of those books that I read and then couldn't stop thinking about. Yes, the cover is absolutely gorgeous (that sparkle!!) but aside from that, the story itself was unforgettable. 

Told in three different time periods, Lunde was able to achieve something extra ordinary in doing so. She wove together a story that made you care for each character, while also appreciating the grander scope of what the story was about: the importance of bees to our world today and our future. Something that I don't think most people realize or fully understand. 

Our three main characters are as follows, William (inventor of the bee hives living in Victorian times), George (a modern day bee farmer struggling to keep his bees alive at the very beginning of the bee "disappearances"), and Tao (a bee pollinator living in a dystopian future where bees have disappeared). Each of these characters struggled with their relationship to bees and it in turn affected the relationships with those around them. My favorite character was Tao, a mother who will stop at nothing to find her child in a world that has all but disappeared along with the bees. 

One of my favorite scenes that Lunde wrote was Tao dragging herself through the empty streets of a mostly empty city thinking of nothing but her child and knowing she will do anything to find him. I was so struck by that scene and the following ones as she found out what had happened to her boy, as well as the final scene which was unexpected and definitely powerful. 

There is much that can be taken from this story, applied to our world today and the affect our relationship with bees will have on future generations. Reading the dystopian story alongside the other two really made the affect more powerful I think, of what a loss of these bees would mean to us as a society and to the world as a whole. 

I am so grateful to Touchstone books for the advance copy I received to review and the final copy as well! Its a book I will keep alongside my other "favorites" and look forward to rereading again someday. (As well as recommending to all of my friends!)


352 pages
Touchstone Books 


Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Conversations with Friends by Sally Rooney


After keeping this book on my nightstand and carrying it with me alongside a few other current reads for about a month, I finally finished Sally Rooney's Conversation with Friends. (Thank you to Hogarth books for the copy!) For the first ten chapters or so I was really having a hard time connecting with the characters. I would read a few pages or get through a chapter and just not feel interested or invested in the story and put it down.

And then. AND THEN.

The other night I picked it back up with the determination to give it one more shot. I had a whole evening ahead of me to read and I wanted to finish this one either way. Before I knew it I was halfway through! I'm not sure if it was just me or if this book was really slow to start but man, once I got into the story...I think around Chapter 12, I couldn't put it down!

Told from the voice of Frances, a college student who is not sure where she's going with her life (in terms of love, work, a job, everything) we meet Bobbi (her close friend and ex-girlfriend) and married couple Nick and Melissa. From there this story becomes a love story of sorts, between Frances and Nick but also between Frances and the other characters in the story as well. We see her relationships in their truest forms, through her very self-centered and at times frustrating perspective. There were moments when reading her reactions to a situation that I just wanted to reach through the page and shake her a bit, so she could see what was really happening in front of her. But in truth, this type of storytelling also made Frances a more realistic character, which I appreciated.


I'm not sure what Sally Rooney intended with the title, Conversations with Friends, but as I became more engrossed with the story I felt like it was reading as if I was actually having a conversation with Frances. At least parts of it, I could picture her relaying to me over coffee in just the same way it was written. I think that had a lot to do with how quickly I become absorbed in the story once I reached a certain point.

I really feel that part of my issue with connecting with the characters began with my own assumption that there wasn't anything in the story for me to relate to. Im much older than both Frances and Bobbi and I certainly disliked Melissa and Nick, as well as the way their marriage was portrayed. Obviously, none of these things changed as the story continued but funnily enough, as I kept reading I found more and more moments that I was able to relate to. Moments especially from my own college days and the naivety I had when it came to relationships. Frances quickly grew on me during her stay in France with Nick and Melissa and by the time she returned home I couldn't put the book down.

Certainly these weren't the most likable characters ever written, most of them were incredibly selfish and concerned with their own feelings and opinions. But their actions and emotional moments throughout the story were believable in a way that made them more realistic than if they had been more "lovable". I'm still thinking about Frances and that last chapter in the book. Sally Rooney did an excellent job writing the characters and especially sticking to using Frances as the sole voice of the story. While I love seeing different perspectives throughout a story, in this case Frances became someone almost real and so much of that came from Sally Rooney's ability to write her in an honest way.

I rated this book 3.5 stars on Goodreads!

Thank you to Hogarth books for the copy to read and review.

Conversations with Friends by Sally Rooney
320 pages
Published by Hogarth



Monday, August 14, 2017

The Misfortune of Marion Palm by Emily Culliton

"Marion Palm is on the lam."

Isn't that a great first line for a story? I read that line and knew I was going to be in for a surprising ride. Marion Palm isn't who you think she is, even from the synopsis whatever impression you may have of her character and personality will be totally different once you get to know her and turn that final page.

Written by Emily Culliton,  The Misfortune of Marion Palm is her debut novel and published by Knopf. I am so grateful for the copy they sent me to read and review! I am frankly still so impressed that this is Culliton's first novel, the writing and alternating story lines (including flashbacks), as well as the short chapters (all of which could have come across as choppy or disjointed) created a seamless view into Marion's life and helped the story move along. Truly a roller coaster of emotions, once I got to know the characters and Marion herself, I couldn't stop reading!

The Misfortune of Marion Palm is told through the view points of Marion Palm, her husband Nathan, each of their two daughters and even the detective on the case. Beginning with Marion, we learn of the embezzlement she committed while working at her daughters' Brooklyn private school and how quickly she was able to leave her husband and two daughters behind. Personally, I assumed I wouldn't be able to connect with her as a mother myself (I can't possibly imagine ever leaving behind my children!!) but by the end of the novel, I was actually rooting for her escape. The characters Culliton creates in this story are realistic in that they are all severely flawed and selfish. It was honestly hard to like any of them (even Marion) but yet the story itself and the actions of the characters made me want to keep reading. I had to know what Marion's fate would be in the end!

I gave this 3.5 stars on Goodreads and am again, so grateful to Knopf for the copy! If you're looking for a book that takes you to the heart of a family who is flawed by greed, selfishness and by a mother that is unhappy with her lot in life, this is your book! At times humorous (in a slightly tongue in cheek sort of way) as well as sad, The Misfortune of Marion Palm was really an entertaining book!

304 pages 
Published by Knopf Publishing Group 


Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Live from Cairo by Ian Bassingthwaighte


Quote: 

" The right to migrate was really the right to move on fro your suffering. The right to joy, to reunion. The right to forget." p.71

"Her prayers had gotten lost in a city full of protests, full of smoke." 

Review: 

If you read the synopsis (here) you might think, like I did, that Live from Cairo doesn't sound like something you'd usually be up for reading much less move to the front of your ever growing TBR list. When I received this from Scribner books, that was my first thought! Its always hard to decide what book gets hauled to the front of that ever growing line up! There are so many good books out there. 

I decided to take a page out of a fellow bookstagrammers book and give the first chapter a read, at least. That way I'd know the writing style and maybe meet a character or two. And wouldn't you know, I was six chapters in before I even realized it!! Isn't that the mark of a great book? One that pulls you in with its writing or an unforgettable character or a setting that makes you want to crawl into the book and be there too? I was totally surprised! This book, Live from Cairo by Ian Bassingthwaighte, was not what I expected! 

Told from the perspectives of multiple characters, Live from Cairo is a story about what it takes to make the 'right' decision, to overcome politics and prejudice and fear to save somebody. Whether or not it succeeds in the end. Live from Cairo takes place during the Egyptian revolutions of 2011, after the overthrow of Mubarak. The characters we meet are grappling with curfews, with the army around every corner who takes people to the basement of the museum and tortures them to prove a point, as well as with their own personal struggles. Together, this combination creates a rather intense sequence of events that center around a refugee named Dalia who is stuck in Cairo awaiting a pass to meet her husband in the United States. 

I cannot say enough how surprising the entire story was for me. I enjoyed meeting each of the characters, seeing their lives unfold in a setting and story that was very outside of what I normally read. I really don't know much about what is involved with refugees applying for leave to other countries. Seeing these characters grapple with the concept that Dalia is just a drop in the bucket when it comes to the sheer number of people just like her wanting to escape their home countries, despite how devastating her personal story was, I couldn't wrap my own mind around it. The unlikely friendships formed around her case, as Hana and Charlie become more and more consumed with saving Dalia for as much their own personal reasons as anything else, made this such an interesting read. 

I tried not to spend too much time caught up in what I didn't know, the riots and the political atmosphere, etc. I did some research after I finished but felt it wasn't necessary to the story that I  do so while I was reading it. The characters themselves and the writing alone were enough to carry me through some of the confusing parts to the end. I cannot say enough how much I appreciated the ending to this story either. What could've been tied up nicely was made more realistic and believable than I could have hoped or anticipated. 

I highly recommend this book! Live from Cairo has a strong footing in our world right now,  one that may give a reader more empathy to those involved with refugee cases and the refugees themselves, waiting for absolution in the form of a yellow card. 


Thank you Scribner books for the copy! 

322 pages
Published by Scribner


Tuesday, August 8, 2017

The Little French Bistro by Nina George


Review: 

There is nothing I enjoy more than a story where I can fall in love with the main character, watch her shed her old skin and start over. Haven't we all wanted to do that at one time or another? Haven't you wondered what it would be like to just disappear somewhere, meet new people and loves and just be someone new? This is why Under the Tuscan Sun is one of my favorite movies (I have yet to read the book). I love that idea, as a fantasy. Especially disappearing to someplace foreign and strange but yet having it all work out (fantasies, right?).

Marianne is just that character and her story in The Little French Bistro by Nina George is just as heartwarming. Sometimes you don't need fireworks and mysteries to solve to capture and keep a reader and in The Little French Bistro Marianne and the cast of characters throughout her story are more than enough. Leaving her life behind, Marianne travels to the coast of Brittany and thus begins her own "awakening", her own leaving.

What follows is Marianne's story as she finds herself again and its written in such a quiet and unassuming, soft and pleasing way, that this story almost feels like a hug from a good friend. Its okay to read this before bed, to read a bit and put it down again, it will still be waiting for you. I LOVE that about a book. Even with such a terrible and hard to read beginning, even reading through scenes where Marianne's husband clearly has no love or respect for her, this story slowly builds to an ending that leaves both you and Marianne feeling so much better off than when you started.

Thank you to Crown Publishing and Blogging for Books for this free copy in exchange for an honest review! I am so glad I had the opportunity to read this and share it with others. The Little French Bistro was truly a delightful story to read!

The Little French Bistro by Nina George 
320 pages
Published by Crown Publishing

New Release: The Misfortune of Marion Palm by Emily Culliton


"Marion Palm is on the lam." 

With an opening line like that, how can you really go wrong? 

Marion Palm prefers not to think of herself as a thief but rather "a woman who embezzles." Over the years she has managed to steal $180,000 from her daughters' private school, money that has paid for European vacations, a Sub-Zero refrigerator, and perpetually unused state-of-the-art exercise equipment. But, now, when the school faces an audit, Marion pulls piles of rubber-banded cash from their basement hiding places and flees, leaving her family to grapple with the baffled detectives, the irate school board, and the mother-shaped hole in their house. Told from the points of view of Nathan, Marion's husband, heir to a long-diminished family fortune; Ginny, Marion's teenage daughter who falls helplessly in love at the slightest provocation; Jane, Marion's youngest who is obsessed with a missing person of her own; and Marion herself, on the lam--and hiding in plain sight. 

Are you ready to get to know Marion Palm a little better? With reviews from Kevin Kwan and Katherine Heiny, this debut novel by Emily Culliton is one I'm really excited to share with you. I'm currently on the chapter entitled "Pitchforks" (I LOVE a book with titled chapters, its so fun to have a peek at whats coming next) and theres no doubt I'll be finished with this today! Thank you to Knopf for the free copy! 

I love Tuesday release days, don't you? Happy Pub Day to Emily Culliton (and Marion Palm!)

Find THE MISFORTUNE OF MARION PALM by Emily Culliton here. Happy Reading! 

Monday, August 7, 2017

Girl In Snow by Danya Kukafka


Favorite quote: 

"It makes you wonder doesn't it- how its possible to be a secondary character in your own story." p.220

Review: 

Goodness gracious, this book. Where should I begin? I mean honestly. Girl in Snow by Danya Kukafka is such a brilliantly written journey from page one to the final turn of the last page I don't know what to say other than simply READ IT. And I can't say enough how much I appreciate Simon Books for sending me this copy (along with that super cute snow globe!!! heart eyes!). I've had my eye on Girl in Snow since the Spring, getting more and more excited as the release date (August 1st!) marched closer. I don't often feel that way about books or upcoming releases, but this one really struck me from the first time I read a summary and I just knew it was going to be something special. All I can say is, well done Danya Kukafka!! This book is one of my favorites of the year, by far!

I must admit, I was slightly surprised by the direction this story took (from the small amount of reviews I read prior as well as the summary, I took it to be a thriller/murder mystery in a small town). And it was, a murder mystery for sure, but oh man Girl in Snow is much much more than that. To its bones, a character study of who we are when we aren't putting on a show for those around us, who we are when in the dark of our bedroom alone or hiding in the bathroom. Who we are when we think no one is watching, essentially, when our thoughts are free to roam unfettered.

Girl in Snow spans a few days, beginning with the discovery of a girl, Lucinda, murdered and left in the snow of the school playground. From there we meet our trio of characters: Cameron, the boy who silently watched Lucinda, stood outside of her house at night and drew her face over and over from memory because he loved her so much. Jade, the friend/not friend who shared a babysitting job with Lucinda and has done her fair share of watching from her own bedroom window. And finally, Russ, the cop who has an emotional history with Cameron's father and is placed on the case to find Lucinda's murderer.

One of the best things about Girl in Snow is how these three characters end up entwined, affecting each other's lives in seemingly small and then ultimately large ways at the culmination of the story. Each character is written in such a way that seeing so vividly inside their minds, their thoughts and feelings uncensored, makes you root for them. I crossed my fingers that neither Cameron, Russ or Jade had anything to do with Lucinda's death. By the end I felt they were each deserving of finding their own happiness and place in the world.

I pictured their neighborhood and the adjoining school almost like a movie set, with characters moving through and around each other while the story unfolds, the mountains of Colorado peaked in the distance and everything bathed in a blueish purple light reflected off the snow. I really feel that Kukafka did a remarkable job not only creating this setting which on the surface seems pretty standard/nothing special, just a small town, but in her way giving it its own life and color. Kukafka's writing was truly one of my favorite things about this book.

I also appreciated very much that after the murderer is brought to light, the story doesn't end there. We keep reading, seeing the characters in the aftermath of this news and how it affects each of them. I loved that. So many standard "thrillers" leave you right when the murder is solved and the bad guy taken away. More meaningful than any other part of this story to me was the chance we are given as the reader to continue following the characters we've been getting to know for the last three hundred pages, past the standard "ending", and further along their respective journeys.


I rated Girl in Snow 4.5 stars on Goodreads.

Girl in Snow by Danya Kukafka
368 pages
Simon and Schuster








Monday Mood

Happy Monday bookish friends! I'm trying to catch up on some book reviews *there are many* but there are stacks of pretty books on my shelves in the dining room begging to be read. 

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt sent me this lovely package two weeks ago, a beautiful tote and two books I have been dying to read. I can't wait to start both! The Weight of Ink by Rachel Kadish is a bit heavy and I'm planning on starting it once the baby gets here, something I can read slowly and pick up/put down and work on in the quiet of early early morning feedings. I'm also really looking forward to Thisbe Nissen's new book Our Lady of the Prairie. I have been a fan of hers or many years. And don't get me started on that tote bag!!! I'm a sucker for a good, heavy tote and bonus points if its also really cute. 

Heres a quick summary of each in case you are interested!

The Weight of Ink by Rachel Kadish
Set in London of the 1660s and of the early twenty-first century, The Weight of Ink is the interwoven tale of two women of remarkable intellect: Ester Velasquez, an emigrant from Amsterdam who is permitted to scribe for a blind rabbi, just before the plague hits the city; and Helen Watt, an ailing historian with a love of Jewish history.   

As the novel opens, Helen has been summoned by a former student to view a cache of seventeenth-century Jewish documents newly discovered in his home during a renovation. Enlisting the help of Aaron Levy, an American graduate student as impatient as he is charming, and in a race with another fast-moving team of historians, Helen embarks on one last project: to determine the identity of the documents’ scribe, the elusive “Aleph.”   

Our Lady of the Prairie by Thisbe Nissen
In the space of a few torrid months on the Iowa prairie, Phillipa Maakestad—long-married theater professor and mother of an unstable daughter—grapples with a life turned upside down. After falling headlong into a passionate affair during a semester spent teaching in Ohio, Phillipa returns home to Iowa for her daughter Ginny’s wedding. There, Phillipa must endure (among other things) a wedding-day tornado, a menace of a mother-in-law who may or may not have been a Nazi collaborator, and the tragicomic revenge fantasies of her heretofore docile husband.  Naturally, she does what any newly liberated woman would do: she takes a match to her life on the prairie and then steps back to survey the wreckage.  Set in the seething political climate of a contentious election,Thisbe Nissen's new novel is sexy, smart, and razor-sharp—a freight train barreling through the heart of the land and the land of the heart.

Friday, August 4, 2017

Book Sparks POP UP Blog Tour! The Guineveres by Sarah Domet

I'm so excited to be a part of the Book Sparks Pop Up Blog Tour for The Guineveres by Sarah Domet!!! Look at this gorgeous book! I love the cover and have had it on my TBR list forever. Whats best about being a part of the tour is that I can follow along with so many other readers who are also starting it at the same time! So cool. 

I'm about 1/3 of the way in and looking forward to a quiet night of reading. Has anyone seen the old Hayley Mills movie Trouble with Angels? I used to watch it often with my momma, about two girls who will do anything to make their lives a little less miserable while living with the nuns every year.

 So far these four girl friends, all named Guinevere are making me feel the same way! I'm so interested to see where this story goes. 

Heres a quick summary from Goodreads: 

To four girls who have nothing, their friendship is everything: they are each other’s confidants, teachers, and family. The girls are all named "Guinevere"―Vere, Gwen, Ginny, and Win―and it is the surprise of finding another Guinevere in their midst that first brings them together. They come to The Sisters of the Supreme Adoration convent by different paths, delivered by their families, each with her own complicated, heartbreaking story that she safeguards; however, the girls are more than the sum of their parts and together they form the all powerful and confident "The Guineveres," bound by the extraordinary coincidence of their names and girded against the indignities of their plain, sequestered lives. Author Sarah Domet explores their almighty friendship as the desperate teens concoct a plan to escape from the isolated abbey


Can't wait to share a full review when I'm finished! :) Happy Friday! 


Thursday, August 3, 2017

Anything is Possible by Elizabeth Strout

Review: 

To be honest, I feel very conflicted about Elizabeth Strout's Anything is Possible. Having only read Amy and Isabelle (ages ago, in high school) I wasn't sure what to expect with this book. Going into reading it, I knew it was a collection of short stories centered around a small town in Illinois and characters that are somehow connected to each other through their childhoods and adult lives. 

I really enjoy books written in such a format. I sometimes find it more enjoyable to get to know characters in short snippets or vignettes. I think it can give a character a clearer, more accessible presence when they are presented in such a way that you can only view them through one setting, perhaps only one hour or one day of their life. In other words, I was intrigued by this book from simply that information alone and didn't delve much farther into any reviews prior to reading it. 

When reading a book like this its almost like people watching from a bench or looking through someones windows on a clear night when their curtains are open. You only get a small glimpse, but they aren't aware you are watching and thus left to behave and think in an honest way true to themselves. There were many passages that I underlined, truth found in the words of these characters. It left me wanting to know some of them a little bit better, which is part of Elizabeth Strout's magic. 

"...he understood that all that mattered in this world were his wife and children, and he thought that people lived their whole lives not knowing this as sharply and constantly as he did." p. 6

"Everyone, she understood, was mainly and mostly interested in themselves....This was the skin that protected you from the world- this loving of another person you shared your life with." p. 54

What I wasn't expecting while reading this book was the amount of uncomfortable sexual situations or themes that seemed prevalent throughout each of the character's stories. I'm not sure why it was important to include such themes repeatedly. (The story Cracked left me feeling very unsettled and confused). I haven't read her previous book, My Name is Lucy Barton, so I'm not sure if this is something that was important to her story (she is a repeating character mentioned in Anything is Possible). Regardless, I guess I was caught unawares and left a bit uncomfortable by some of it. By the end, enough of it had accumulated to almost deter me from my earlier awe at the passages I had marveled at. With each story being so short, these themes seemed to stand out more to me than had they been woven into a larger and more linear novel. So perhaps, that is what really struck me more than anything. Each character seemed tagged by one of these experiences, in my mind. 

Overall, this book was incredibly emotional and well-written. Elizabeth Strout did a wonderful job weaving together characters linked only by a place or knowledge of a girl named Lucy Barton (or the Barton family). Many of the characters beg for a chance to tell their own story, I feel, and I would love to read that. I will also be looking into her other books as well. 



The Chalk Artist by Allegra Goodman

Review: 

I'll be honest, one of the first things that drew me to Allegra Goodman's The Chalk Artist was the title and cover design. As an art teacher and lover of all things art related, I was instantly curious and looked up Goodman's website online to learn more. I've always been intrigued by chalk artists, the very fact that their art is erasable and impermanent. One of my favorite things to do in September is visit Cleveland's chalk festival at the Cleveland Art Museum. What the artists are able to create with just a piece of cement and their box of chalk is truly amazing. 

The Chalk Artist is about one such artist, Collin, who prides himself on being able to draw virtually anything but whose passion lies in a box of chalk and a blackboard. Nina, a first year teacher struggling to make an impact on her high school English students any way she can, is drawn to Collin as much as he is to her and thus their romance begins. Along side their story is Aiden, one of Nina's students who has become lost in the world of internet multiplayer gaming and struggles to remember what the "real" world is. 

Something about each of these characters, as well as Aiden's twin sister, really got under my skin. I felt like Goodman did something brilliant with their stories, connecting them in such small and then ultimately large ways to create a larger and more realistic emotional story. One of how art influences our lives, makes us better humans to ourselves and each other. Whether that art is a poem, a drawing sketched on a napkin, an intricate digital world. How it creates a connection between people or within us, connecting bits of ourselves into something greater. 

Recommendation: 

I highly recommend this book to you if you enjoy stories where characters are struggling to find themselves and each other, with multiple character viewpoints and a very real presence in today's world. I found the scenes where Aiden struggles with his life in the multiplayer game and his "real" life eyeopening. I've read articles about teenagers struggling with gaming worlds and being able to move forward into responsibility, college, jobs etc. This particular part of the story really stuck with me. 


352 pages
Published by Random House 

Monday, July 31, 2017

See What I Have Done by Sarah Schmidt

I am so excited to share this book with you guys! I've been sitting on this review for a while, waiting for the chance to finally focus on writing out my thoughts. I actually own two copies of this magnificent story, the UK version (I purchased on Book Depository in the Spring) and the US edition which was kindly sent to me by Grove Atlantic. You know you're a book nerd when having two different editions of a favorite book makes you SO happy. ;) 
Review

See What I Have Done by Sarah Schmidt is her debut novel, a fictionalized account of the infamous Lizzie Borden murder case, where Mr. and Mrs. Borden were found gruesomely butchered in their home on a Thursday morning, August 4th 1892. You can read more about the actual Lizzie Borden case online and also visit the Borden home in Fall River, Massachusetts. 

Sarah Schmidt did something extraordinary with this story, it's almost hard to even explain. Using descriptive language in even the most mundane sentences, she created a sense of unease throughout all 319 pages that left me personally anxious to turn each page not knowing what I was going to find. She created a sense of dread that slowly crept up on you, with phrases that attacked your senses when simply describing the old mutton on the stove, the rotten pears on the ground or the smell of bodies in a room. Everything had a dark and gruesome undercurrent that built and built until the final page and sentence. 

Told through the alternating view points of various characters over the course of three days, alongside flashbacks, See What I Have Done takes you on a ride that makes you wonder what really happened to this family while also being altogether disgusted and disturbed by them (thanks again, to Schmidt's excellent writing). Some of the scenes were particularly gruesome and descriptive! Every sentence is written with intention, to create suspicion and unease which creates an atmosphere of anxiety and horror. But its so expertly done, you almost don't even notice it until you close the book and wonder why you have such an awful feeling in the pit of your stomach. (Oh right, it's because I've just spent too much time inside Lizzie Borden's head). 

She made my teeth want to sink into her flesh and eat her out of my life, made me want to swarm her mind and sort through all the thoughts she had of me, that I was being too stubborn, I was being too secretive, I was being bad, I was, I was. I felt her nastiness crawl over my skin, tiny deaths that made me want to become nothing.

It took me a few days to get this story out of my mind, while also continuously applauding Sarah Schmidt for creating such a beautifully written, dark and disturbing character study of Lizzie Borden and the terrible events that unfolded on that August morning. 

I love both covers of this book as well, not just because they are beautiful in their own right but because by the end of the book the significance of both the pear and the pigeon meant so much more. I can't look at either without remembering scenes from the book. Read this book and trust me, you'll feel the same way. 

I gave this book 5 stars on Goodreads and really can't say enough how brilliant this book was! When I saw it put out early at my local bookstore last week I just wanted to stand there and point it out to everyone who passed by..."THIS BOOK! Buy it. Buy it right now. There's nothing like it."



319 pages
Published by Grove Atlantic


Sunday, July 30, 2017

The River at Night by Erica Ferencik


Review: 

An intense story about a group of older women who have been friends forever that decide the best way to heal from each of their own wounds is to take an epic white water rafting adventure down an unpopulated river route in Maine. Of course, nothing ends up as simple as that and the friends are each tested at some point of the adventure, bringing the question of what you would do in a life or death situation to light. 

This was actually a fun, rollercoaster type story to read! I finished it quickly, in just two days, and had a hard time putting it down. I was anxious to find out what was going to happen to the girls and kept putting myself in their shoes. Scary! 

I did feel that the main character, Winifred, was given quite a few "deep, thoughtful" moments that didn't really jive with the rest of the writing or story. They seemed more than a little out of place given the nature of the story and the events taking place. 

All in all, this was a great thriller and left me wondering multiple times what could possibly happen to these women next, or how they were ever going to make it home. For sure, there will be no white water rafting adventures with friends in my future. We'll stick with trips to the local winery! 




304 pages
Published by Gallery Books 

Friday, July 28, 2017

Fierce Kingdom by Gin Phillips

It's Friday and I thought a quick review of this fast paced thriller was just the thing for today! Fierce Kingdom by Gin Phillips is one of those books that once you start reading you won't be able to put down until the ride is over.

I feel like this book deserves two reviews from me. One as a reader and one as a mother of a four year old little boy. So let's try that.

As a reader, the suspense this book created as the story progressed kept me at the edge of my seat. I couldn't stop turning pages and I loved how real it all felt. I also appreciated the different viewpoints, which I wasn't expecting based on the synopsis. All the way up until the ending, I wasn't sure what was really going to happen to the mother Joan and her four year old little boy as they tried to hide themselves in the zoo while gunmen were on the loose. There isn't much character development going on here, although I feel the author tried to incorporate the mother's childhood into parts of the story. I was more interested honestly in what was happening in the moment.

As a mother, my goodness. I read the first chapter and then put the book down and had to take a few breaths. I have been in the EXACT same moments with my four year old son. Recently. Like yesterday. Discussing the pros and cons of super heroes and creating battles while I'm trying to think of what we need from the grocery store and if we should leave the park/zoo/splash pad yet. The first chapter kinda knocked the wind out of me and I needed to regroup. I picked it up the next evening and once I did, I didn't put it down until I was finished. But, certainly the first half of the book, left me feeling anxious and panicky. There have been plenty of times when we've been at the zoo or park together without my husband that I've had the passing thought of "What if..." and "What would we do first..." if there was some kind of trouble. This story really hit me hard in that sense as I watched a mother I was all too familiar with actually in one of those situations. There were actual lines as well, like this one: "She wonders when he will stop wanting to hold her hand..." as they walk towards the zoo exit that I think myself often. That I'm lost in thought thinking about as we hold hands walking out of the park, not really paying attention to my surroundings.

And this one, "In a year he will be in kindergarten and these days of superheroes will fade and be replaced by something she can't guess, and then at some point the zoo itself will be replaced and life will have gone on and this boy holding her hand will have turned into someone else entirely." YOU GUYS. This exact thought is in my head all the time. I think about it so much, as we do things like go to the zoo and the grocery store and take walks. So when Joan is thinking these thoughts about her little boy and all of sudden a madman with a gun is in the zoo killing people, I felt like I was there with her. Trying to protect my four year old, hide and stay safe but also not scare him too much. And as the time passes, as Joan starts remembering her little boy as a baby and the all the special moments they shared, as she starts to worry that maybe they won't make it out of the zoo...my heart just wanted to stop all together!

To say the least, this was an intense read for me. But it was worth every page of anxiety and suspense and I highly recommend it! Grab it, throw it in your purse for a long car ride or plane trip or plan on staying up way to late to finish it.

Fierce Kingdom by Gin Phillips 
274 pages
Published by Viking Books

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

The Necklace by Claire McMillan

Review:

One of my favorite things about Claire McMillan's The Necklace was how it pulled me in once I started reading it! That's the best feeling right? I picked it up the other night when my other current reads were still downstairs and I didn't want to get up (#pregnant haha) and before I knew it an hour had passed. I couldn't put it down! I've said this before but I love books that include two time lines and usually its the past time line that I enjoy more. But with The Necklace, I found myself easily enjoying both the present and past timelines.

Centered around the death of Aunt Lou Lou, the present day Quincy family is trying to come to terms with what to do with her will and testament, including the fact that a mostly 'outsider' and the black sheep of the family, Nell, has been left executor. And not only that, but it turns out she's been left a pretty famous (and worth a lot of money) necklace as well.

The past timeline follows Ambrose and Ethan, Quincy brothers, and a beautiful girl May whom they both love. Without giving away anything, the necklace comes into play as the characters revolve around each other. May's energy and beauty capture both brothers and their story turns into one of love lost and found with the necklace at the heart of it.

I was able to finish this pretty quickly and enjoyed the story all the way through (even with an ending I didn't see coming!). Nell was my favorite character, even when I was frustrated with her lack of gumption with all of these stuck up Quincy family members. But vindicated in the end, I wanted to go get drinks with her to celebrate! I loved the history woven throughout the story as well, something that always pulls me in when reading a book.

Recommendation:

I would recommend this book to someone looking for an easy love story/mystery, a little bit of drama, one that pulls you in from the beginning without a lot of extra setup and backstory. A quick, believable story that makes you root for Nell and for the love story that surrounds the past Quincy family members. READ IT. Its a good one.

Thank you to Touchstone Books for the copy!

The Necklace by Claire McMillan
320 pages
Published by Touchstone Books

Monday, July 24, 2017

The Goddesses by Swan Huntley

Review: 
I could not wait to get my hands on Swan Huntley's newest novel, The Goddesses, when I heard about it this Spring. I loved her first book, We Could Be Beautiful, which captivated me last summer (read my full review here). I think I finished it in two days! So, like I said, very VERY anxious to read her second book. ((And isn't that cover just GORGEOUS?))

Told from the perspective of a middle-age mom of twin boys who moves to Hawaii with her family to try to save her marriage after finding out her husband cheated on her, Nancy quickly became an interesting character to me. I was thrown a bit at first, mostly because of her age, wondering if I would be able to relate to her as a character throughout the story. From the summary I had read, in my mind I pictured Nancy and her friend Ana to be younger. Fortunately and due to Huntley's character development, I quickly found myself relating to Nancy in small ways. Mostly the ease in which life becomes ordinary and redundant (the same grocery store, the same dinners, the same towels hanging from the rack). I felt like buying new towels for our house after I finished this!

And then as the story progressed, her relationship with Ana became more relatable to me than her marriage problems. I think we've all had a friend at one point or another who is more dominant in the friendship, who we want to impress and do things with and think about because their life seems so much "cooler". But having that turned around on you, when all of a sudden they just "happen" to get the same shoes in the same color, want the same tattoo as you in the same place, adopt the same type of dog...well it can be a little creepy and a lot less flattering. Reading The Goddesses was kind of like watching a train wreck....you could tell it was going nowhere good but Nancy just couldn't let go of Ana and vice versa. Like I said, I think most women can probably find some relatable aspect  throughout the story, that will make you go "oh yeah, thats kind of like that friend I had...."

The setting was another part of the story that I felt really added to what was happening between the characters. The fact that it begins with their arrival in Hawaii and at the culmination of the story ends with them leaving, lends a sort of dreamlike atmosphere to the story as a whole. Almost like it maybe didn't actually happen, that it was all a dream. I loved the descriptions of their home, the lush jungles and violent volcano just waiting to erupt throughout the entire book. It really added to the exotic and strange elements in the book.

I loved how the story ended and really felt Swan Huntley did a great job showcasing this abnormal and unhealthy friendship in such a way that you almost didn't realize how bad it was until Nancy did. So happy I had a chance to read and review it prior to it's release on July 25th (thank you Doubleday books!)


Recommendation: 

I would recommend The Goddesses to anyone who is looking for a quick summer read and likes books that are more psychological, that play on character's problems and subtly take you to the end and then throw you for a loop!



The Goddesses by Swan Huntley
320 pages
Published by Doubleday

Thursday, July 20, 2017

It's Not Yet Dark by Simon Fitzmaurice


Review:
I received a copy of It's Not Yet Dark by Simon Fitzmaurice from HMH books a few weeks ago, letting it sitting on the top of my TBR stack while I considered when I would be ready to read it. A short memoir, it wasn't the time available that I was worried about but the emotional affect such a story was going to have. When I finally picked it up a few evenings ago, needing something 'real' to read for a bit, I wasn't wrong. It was incredibly emotional, leaving me at a loss for words after the last page.

Told in small glimpses, short paragraphs recounting moments and feelings from Simon's past and present, this story left an enormous impact on my heart. Simon was a father of two, husband, friend, artist, director, son when he was diagnosed with ALS and given only a short three-four years to live. During those years, he rocked between depression and hope, trying healing techniques and battling a strong will to live. Since then, he and his wife have had three more children, they've traveled and moved and he's directed movies. He's lived, while others said he wouldn't. He's persevered when he felt like he couldn't. His story is truly a remarkable one. And he asks the hard questions.

"I want to live. Is that wrong? What gives a life meaning? What constitutes a meaningful life? What gives one life more value than another? Surely only the individual can hope to grasp the meaning of his or her life." p.84

There are so many corners folded over in this book, marking passages that captured my heart and attention. Too engrossed to get up and find a pencil or page marker, I folded those corners and kept reading until I fell asleep. The next morning I woke up and grabbed the book first thing, finishing the last fifty pages or so in a state of admiration for a man who has had his life taken away and still gets up in the morning to marvel at his small children running through the house, his wife passing by the doorway.

This passage, which I reread after I finished the book, spoke so true to me.

"It's not important that you know everything about where I come from. About who I am. It's not important that you know everything about ALS, about the specifics of the disease, about what its like to have it. It's only important that you remember behind every disease is a person. Remember that and you have everything you need to travel through my country." p.92

Written with an eye-gaze computer and a movie set to be released this summer, Simon Fitzmaurice is truly an inspiration to anyone struggling with a disease but more so for those of us on the outside unaware and unsure how to contemplate such a struggle. His words were eyeopening for me and not ones I'll soon forget.

Recommendation: 

I wholeheartedly recommend this book to everyone. Enough said.





Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Historical Fiction Favorites of 2017 (January-September)

One of my favorite favorite FAVORITE genres is historical fiction! When I look over the books I've given 5 stars to on Goodreads or when I'm thinking of a "favorite book" (that elusive thing!) most often I'm passing over various historical fiction books that I've loved. I've always enjoyed history, especially the time periods that stretch across both world wars or following, during the fifties.

Thankfully there is no shortage of great historical fiction books out this year! So many good ones have been released already and there are a few that I'm excited to share with you that will be released in the next few months. Some of these I have read and reviewed already, some I have on my TBR stack and I'm looking forward to starting! There are plenty of historical fiction books I haven't picked up yet (The Alice Network by Kate Quinn for one!) and am looking forward to adding my reviews and books to my list as the year goes on. Let me know if you've read any of these! 
If you love Little Women or the story of Lousia May Alcott, than this is the book for you. Told from the perspective of Louisa May Alcott's sister, May, who was the inspiration for Amy in Little Women,  this story is one I am really excited about starting! I've never liked Amy's character (I have a younger sister and can speak from experience some of those annoying things that happened during Little Women) but I have a feeling this book is going to change my mind. 

SUMMARY: 
We all know the story of the March sisters, heroines of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women. But while everyone cheers on Jo March, based on Louisa herself, Amy March is often the least favorite sister. Now, it’s time to learn the truth about the real “Amy”, Louisa’s sister, May. 

Stylish, outgoing, creative, May Alcott grows up longing to experience the wide world beyond Concord, Massachusetts. While her sister Louisa crafts stories, May herself is a talented and dedicated artist, taking lessons in Boston, turning down a marriage proposal from a well-off suitor, and facing scorn for entering what is very much a man’s profession.

Life for the Alcott family has never been easy, so when Louisa’s Little Women is published, its success eases the financial burdens they’d faced for so many years. Everyone agrees the novel is charming, but May is struck to the core by the portrayal of selfish, spoiled “Amy March.” Is this what her beloved sister really thinks of her?

So May embarks on a quest to discover her own true identity, as an artist and a woman. From Boston to Rome, London, and Paris, this brave, talented, and determined woman forges an amazing life of her own, making her so much more than merely “The Other Alcott.”
I was so excited to read The Dressmaker's Dowry because I hadn't read anything set in San Francisco before the turn of the century before. The streets and city life, the poverty and social classes, all of it was new to me and made for an incredibly interesting read! It is obvious from the story and the extras in the back of the book how much research Meredith Jaeger did in preparation for this story. Told in simultaneous present/past story lines, The Dressmaker's Dowry is definitely worth a read! You can see my full review here. 

SUMMARY: 
San Francisco: 1876

Immigrant dressmakers Hannelore Schaeffer and Margaret O'Brien struggle to provide food for their siblings, while mending delicate clothing for the city's most affluent ladies. When wealthy Lucas Havensworth enters the shop, Hanna's future is altered forever. With Margaret's encouragement and the power of a borrowed green dress, Hanna dares to see herself as worthy of him. Then Margaret disappears, and Hanna turns to Lucas. Braving the gritty streets of the Barbary Coast and daring to enter the mansions of Nob Hill, Hanna stumbles upon Margaret’s fate, forcing her to make a devastating decision...one that will echo through the generations.

San Francisco: Present Day

In her elegant Marina apartment overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge, Sarah Havensworth struggles to complete the novel she quit her job for. Afraid to tell her husband of her writer’s block, Sarah is also hiding a darker secret—one that has haunted her for 14 years. Then a news headline from 1876 sparks inspiration: Missing Dressmakers Believed to be Murdered. Compelled to discover what happened to Hannelore and Margaret, Sarah returns to her roots as a journalist. Will her beautiful heirloom engagement ring uncover a connection to Hanna Schaeffer?

I couldn't wait to get Seven Days in May when I spotted it on Instagram shortly before it was released! One of my favorite time periods, during the First World War, and more specifically aboard the Lusitania, I knew this book was going to be unique. A seldom told story in fiction, the sinking of the Lusitania was something I haven't read about previously so I am looking forward to starting this one. 
SUMMARY: 
As the First World War rages in continental Europe, two New York heiresses, Sydney and Brooke Sinclair, are due to set sail for England. Brooke is engaged to marry impoverished aristocrat Edward Thorpe-Tracey, the future Lord Northbrook, in thewedding of the social calendar. Sydney has other adventures in mind; she is drawn to the burgeoning suffragette movement, which is a constant source of embarrassment to her proper sister. As international tempers flare, the German embassy releases a warning that any ships making the Atlantic crossing are at risk. Undaunted, Sydney and Brooke board the Lusitaniafor the seven-day voyage with Edward, not knowing that disaster lies ahead.

In London, Isabel Nelson, a young woman grateful to have escaped her blemished reputation in Oxford, has found employment at the British Admiralty in the mysterious Room 40. While she begins as a secretary, it isn’t long before her skills in codes and cyphers are called on, and she learns a devastating truth and the true cost of war.

As the days of the voyage pass, these four lives collide in a struggle for survival as the Lusitania meets its deadly fate

Another great historical fiction release this summer and one that takes place in a setting I haven't read about before, 1881 and the formation of the first sorority. I can't wait to start this one because I know its going to be an interesting read, as we follow Beth on her quest to start her own fraternity in a time when it wasn't deemed important for women to have or need one. I love stories that center around women fighting back against the norms placed for them during a specific period in time, empowering to say the least! 

SUMMARY: 
Illinois, 1881: Whitsitt College sophomore Beth Carrington has two goals to fulfill by the time she graduates: obtain a medical degree, and establish a women’s fraternity, Beta Xi Beta, that will help young women like herself to connect with and support one another while attending the male-dominated Whitsitt.

Neither is an easy task. The sole female student in the physicians’ program, Beth is constantly called out by her professors and peers for having the audacity not to concentrate on a more “fitting” subject like secretarial studies. Meanwhile, secret organizations are off-limits, and simply by crowding together in a dank basement room and creating a sense of camaraderie, she and her small group of fraternity sisters risk expulsion.

In order to have the fraternity recognized, she knows she needs help. She turns to the most powerful student on campus: senior Grant Richardson, Iota Gamma fraternity president and the scion of a Whitsitt family—a man she’s only acquainted with because of her longstanding friendship with his fraternity brother Will Buchannan. Staunchly traditional, Grant doesn’t see the purpose of this women’s organization, but captivated by Beth, he agrees to give her a helping hand. What she doesn’t know is how many will stop at nothing to keep her burgeoning organization out of the record books—and who she can actually trust along the way.

As Beth fights for her beloved Beta Xi Beta to be recognized, she will uncover deep secrets about the college and those who surround her, and will have to put both love and friendship on the line so that history can be made.

Lilli De Jong by Janet Benton (release date: May 16th)
One of my absolute favorites that I've read of this list, Lilli De Jong is the story of a mother who will do nothing to stop herself from being with her baby. But the story doesn't stop there- Lilli must fight against the restrictions society has placed on women during the late 1800's in regards to single motherhood. She also fights against arrogant males, poverty and the expectations of those around her as well as the religion she was raised in. Told in a diary format from Lilli's point of view, this story kept me enthralled from the first page. There is so much that rang true as a mother myself (who has far less struggles but loves her child just as deeply) and I couldn't put it down. 

SUMMARY: 
Pregnant, abandoned by her lover, and banished from her Quaker home and teaching position, Lilli de Jong enters a charity for wronged women to deliver her child. She is stunned at how much her infant needs her and at how quickly their bond overpowers her heart. Mothers in her position have no sensible alternative to giving up their children, but Lilli can't bear such an outcome. Determined to chart a path toward an independent life, Lilli braves moral condemnation and financial ruin in a quest to keep herself and her baby alive.

Confiding their story to her diary as it unfolds, Lilli takes readers from an impoverished charity to a wealthy family's home to the perilous streets of a burgeoning American city. Lilli de Jong is at once a historical saga, an intimate romance, and a lasting testament to the work of mothers. "So little is permissible for a woman," writes Lilli, yet on her back every human climbs to adulthood."
 

I enjoyed this book immensely, a beautifully written account of a Jewish family in Austria at the start of WWII and simultaneously a story of present day Katie who's personal struggles send her on a quest to solve the mystery of a unique postage stamp. I couldn't put this down once I started, a quiet and unassuming story of a single family in Austria and the art of postage stamp design. The darkness of WWII, while shadowing the story of the characters, didn't take away from the love and hope that was found in this book. Truly a remarkable story! You can read my full review here. 

SUMMARY:

Austria, 1938.
Kristoff is a young apprentice to a master Jewish stamp engraver. When his teacher disappears during Kristallnacht, Kristoff is forced to engrave stamps for the Germans, and simultaneously works alongside Elena, his beloved teacher's fiery daughter, and with the Austrian resistance to send underground messages and forge papers. As he falls for Elena amidst the brutal chaos of war, Kristoff must find a way to save her, and himself. 


Los Angeles, 1989
Katie Nelson is going through a divorce and while cleaning out her house and life in the aftermath, she comes across the stamp collection of her father, who recently went into a nursing home. When an appraiser, Benjamin, discovers an unusual World War II-era Austrian stamp placed on an old love letter as he goes through her dad's collection, Katie and Benjamin are sent on a journey together that will uncover a story of passion and tragedy spanning decades and continents, behind the just fallen Berlin Wall. 


Did you read the Little House on the Prairie series when you were younger too? Some of my favorite childhood books are from that series and when I saw Sarah Miller was releasing this book, Caroline, I couldn't wait to pick it up! Sarah Miller has recreated the life of pioneer Caroline Ingalls (or 'Ma') and   I am so looking forward to getting lost in pioneer life once again. 

SUMMARY: 

In this novel authorized by the Little House estate, Sarah Miller vividly recreates the beauty, hardship, and joys of the frontier in a dazzling work of historical fiction, a captivating story that illuminates one courageous, resilient, and loving pioneer woman as never before—Caroline Ingalls, "Ma" in Laura Ingalls Wilder’s beloved Little House books.

In the frigid days of February, 1870, Caroline Ingalls and her family leave the familiar comforts of the Big Woods of Wisconsin and the warm bosom of her family, for a new life in Kansas Indian Territory. Packing what they can carry in their wagon, Caroline, her husband Charles, and their little girls, Mary and Laura, head west to settle in a beautiful, unpredictable land full of promise and peril.

The pioneer life is a hard one, especially for a pregnant woman with no friends or kin to turn to for comfort or help. The burden of work must be shouldered alone, sickness tended without the aid of doctors, and babies birthed without the accustomed hands of mothers or sisters. But Caroline’s new world is also full of tender joys. In adapting to this strange new place and transforming a rough log house built by Charles’ hands into a home, Caroline must draw on untapped wells of strength she does not know she possesses.


By far one of my FAVORITE reads of 2017, Christina Baker Kline has written a beautiful story of the woman in Andrew Wyeth's famous painting Christina's World. This story captured my heart and reminded me why I love historical fiction, especially stories centered around art and artists. I loved getting to know this fictionalized version of Christina and what kept her in that farmhouse her whole life. Moving beyond and outside of the painting, Christina became a very real person and a character I won't soon forget! You can read my full review here

SUMMARY: 
To Christina Olson, the entire world was her family’s remote farm in the small coastal town of Cushing, Maine. Born in the home her family had lived in for generations, and increasingly incapacitated by illness, Christina seemed destined for a small life. Instead, for more than twenty years, she was host and inspiration for the artist Andrew Wyeth, and became the subject of one of the best known American paintings of the twentieth century.

As she did in her beloved smash bestseller Orphan Train, Christina Baker Kline interweaves fact and fiction in a powerful novel that illuminates a little-known part of America’s history. Bringing into focus the flesh-and-blood woman behind the portrait, she vividly imagines the life of a woman with a complicated relationship to her family and her past, and a special bond with one of our greatest modern artists.

Told in evocative and lucid prose, A Piece of the World is a story about the burdens and blessings of family history, and how artist and muse can come together to forge a new and timeless legacy.


Another five star read for me this year, The Women in the Castle was truly a captivating and thought provoking story that I am still thinking about! Told from the viewpoints of three different women and carrying into present day, The Women in the Castle shares the stories that I feel aren't often told in historical fiction. The stories of German women left behind to raise their children and live their lives in a world that isn't what it seemed, a war that wasn't what they were told it was and husbands gone fighting for what they can't let themselves believe in. How do you continue on after it's all over? How do you welcome those men home or look yourself in the mirror when the atrocities of WWII are finally reveled and you were living inside of it? I couldn't stop thinking of this book after I finished it! Truly historical fiction at its finest and a beautifully written story that really sticks long after its over. You can read my full review here. 

SUMMARY: 
Amid the ashes of Nazi Germany’s defeat, Marianne von Lingenfels returns to the once grand castle of her husband’s ancestors, an imposing stone fortress now fallen into ruin following years of war. The widow of a resistor murdered in the failed July, 20, 1944, plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler, Marianne plans to uphold the promise she made to her husband’s brave conspirators: to find and protect their wives, her fellow resistance widows. 

First, Marianne rescues six-year-old Martin, the son of her dearest childhood friend, from a Nazi reeducation home. Together, they make their way across the smoldering wreckage of their homeland to Berlin, where Martin’s mother, the beautiful and naïve Benita, has fallen into the hands of occupying Red Army soldiers. Then she locates Ania, another resistor’s wife, and her two boys, now refugees languishing in one of the many camps that house the millions displaced by the war. 

As Marianne assembles this makeshift family from the ruins of her husband’s resistance movement, she is certain their shared pain and circumstances will hold them together. But she quickly discovers that the black-and-white, highly principled world of her privileged past has become infinitely more complicated, filled with secrets and dark passions that threaten to tear them apart. Eventually, all three women must come to terms with the choices that have defined their lives before, during, and after the war—each with their own unique share of challenges. 

Written with the devastating emotional power of The Nightingale, Sarah’s Key, and The Light Between Oceans, Jessica Shattuck’s evocative and utterly enthralling novel offers a fresh perspective on one of the most tumultuous periods in history. Combining piercing social insight and vivid historical atmosphere, The Women in the Castle is a dramatic yet nuanced portrait of war and its repercussions that explores what it means to survive, love, and, ultimately, to forgive in the wake of unimaginable hardship.




All summaries are from Goodreads.