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. 




Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Saints for All Occasions by J. Courtney Sullivan

Review: 
One of the things I loved best about J. Courtney Sullivan's Saints for All Occasions was how quietly and unassuming this story snuck up on me. I found myself about halfway through, reading along and realizing that I didn't want to put it down. I was thinking about Nora and Theresa in the car on the way to the grocery store and contemplating what it means to raise a family and have your children grow up and into themselves while I was stirring the spaghetti sauce on the stove. 

"Taken together, the small choices anyone made added up to a life."

This quote, for me, is meaningful personally and alongside this beautifully written story. As Nora looked back over her life, as Theresa looked to the past wondering what she might have done differently....it was the realization that those small decisions along the way are what created the lives they led. And the lives of their children. I sometimes wonder where my own "small" choices are going to take our family. Something as simple as accepting a part time teaching position perhaps, or a decision to keep a friend in your life. 

I enjoyed the sections that took place in Nora and Theresa's past immensely! One of my favorite things about a well written family saga is seeing the sequence of events, those "small choices", build upon themselves. Some parts of the story seemed familiar to me from other books. The Irish American experience, the dance halls, the girls making their way across the Atlantic. The stifled fifties housewife who is questioning her marriage and husband. But altogether, in this book, Sullivan writes a unique story all her own. One I couldn't put down! 

My favorite character was Nora, who wasn't able to see or understand the affect of her choices on herself until much later but still handled herself with grace. Her constant role as the family matriarch, her protective mothering and her avoidance of things she didn't understand was incredibly endearing. As a mother myself I often wonder what I'm going to do with my grown adult children, when they start making their own decisions and have their own opinions different from mine. Their own life experiences. I can't imagine being able to understand everything they choose, but hope for the grace to handle them well. 

Recommendation: 
 I would suggest this book to anyone who is loves a good family saga, one filled with secrets and regret and the love of family that perseveres throughout mistakes and misfortune. I enjoyed the historical aspects of the sections that took place in Nora and Theresa's past as well as the present day themes that were more relatable. I rated this book 4 stars on Goodreads and am thankful to Knopf for the copy! 




Saints for All Occasions by J. Courtney Sullivan
335 pages
Published by Knopf



Let's Read Together!

I have quite a list of books to read on my nightstand and shelves...there are just too many good ones this summer! I don't know how Ill ever make time for them all. I wanted to share a few I'm looking forward to here (and of course I'll share reviews of each once I get to them!)
 The Dream Keeper's Daughter by Emily Colin: Love story and time travel, what more could you ask for? I cannot wait to start this book! I love a good mystery/romance and the reviews for this have been so good. Thank you to JKS Communications for sending this copy to me!

SUMMARY: Eight years after the unsolved disappearance of her boyfriend Max Adair, archaeologist Isabel Griffin has managed to move on and rebuild her life with her young daughter, Finn, her last tie to Max. But after a series of strange incidents, Isabel begins to wonder if Max might still be alive somewhere, trying to communicate with her. She has no idea that the where isn’t the problem—it’s the when. Max has slipped through time and place, landing on his ancestral family plantation in 1816 Barbados, on the eve of a historic slave uprising. As Isabel searches for answers, Max must figure out not only how to survive the violence to come, but how to get back to his own century, the woman he loves, and the daughter he has only ever met in his dreams.
Castle of Water by Dane Huckelbridge: I was so excited when Dane Huckelbridge reached out to my about his book a few weeks ago. I hadn't heard of it but when I read the summary I knew I wasn't going to be disappointed! Stranded on a deserted island, two strangers.....just the perfect recipe for a hard to put down story right?! 

SUMMARY: Two very different people, one very small island.

For Sophie Ducel, her honeymoon in French Polynesia was intended as a celebration of life. The proud owner of a thriving Parisian architecture firm, co-founded with her brilliant new husband, Sophie had much to look forward to—including a visit to the island home of her favorite singer, Jacques Brel.

For Barry Bleecker, the same trip was meant to mark a new beginning. Turning away from his dreary existence in Manhattan finance, Barry had set his sights on fine art, seeking creative inspiration on the other side of the world—just like his idol, Paul Gauguin.

But when their small plane is downed in the middle of the South Pacific, the sole survivors of the wreck are left with one common goal: to survive. Stranded hundreds of miles from civilization, on an island the size of a large city block, the two castaways must reconcile their differences and learn to draw on one another's strengths if they are to have any hope of making it home.

Told in mesmerizing prose, with charm and rhythm entirely its own, Castle of Water is more than just a reimagining of the classic castaway story. It is a stirring reflection on love’s restorative potential, as well as a poignant reminder that home—be it a flat in Paris, a New York apartment, or a desolate atoll a world away—is where the heart is.
 
Something Like Happy by Eva Woods: I am SO EXCITED about this book! Following along with the internet hashtag #100happydays, this story takes two women on a quest to find happiness in each and every day (told in days, instead of chapters, which I LOVE). Hopeful, uplifting and probably also in need of a box of kleenex while you read it....but who doesn't need a thought provoking book now and then? I feel like I came across this one at the perfect time. Thank you to Little Bird Publicity for the copy! 

SUMMARY: With wry wit and boundless heart, Eva Woods delivers an unforgettable tale of celebrating triumphs great and small, seizing the day, and always remembering to live in the moment.

“It's simple, really. You're just meant to do one thing every day that makes you happy. Could be little things. Could be big. In fact, we're doing one right now…”

Annie Hebden is stuck. Stuck in her boring job, with her irritating roommate, in a life no thirty-five-year-old would want. But deep down, Annie is still mourning the terrible loss that tore a hole through the perfect existence she'd once taken for granted—and hiding away is safer than remembering what used to be. Until she meets the eccentric Polly Leonard.

Bright, bubbly, intrusive Polly is everything Annie doesn't want in a friend. But Polly is determined to finally wake Annie up to life. Because if recent events have taught Polly anything, it's that your time is too short to waste a single day—which is why she wants Annie to join her on a mission…

One hundred days. One hundred new ways to be happy. Annie's convinced it's impossible, but so is saying no to Polly. And on an unforgettable journey that will force her to open herself to new experiences—and perhaps even new love with the unlikeliest of men—Annie will slowly begin to realize that maybe, just maybe, there's still joy to be found in the world. But then it becomes clear that Polly's about to need her new friend more than ever…and Annie will have to decide once and for all whether letting others in is a risk worth taking.
When the Future Comes Too Soon by Selina Siak Chin Yoke: I had this book and Chin Yoke's first book, The Woman who Breathed Two Worlds, on my Amazon book wish list forever so I was REALLY excited when JKS Communications contacted me about reading When the Future Comes Too Soon. Set in Malaya, a place I haven't seen much of in any of the books I've read, I'm really interested to see where Mei Foong's story takes us during Japan's occupation. Historical fiction, especially during a time period or setting I'm unfamiliar with, is one of my favorite things to read! 

SUMMARY: In Japanese-occupied Malaya, lives are shattered and a woman discovers her inner strength in a world ravaged by war.

Following the death of their matriarch, the lives of Chye Hoon’s family turned upside down. Now that the British have fled and the Japanese have conquered, their once-benign world changes overnight.

Amid the turmoil, Chye Hoon’s daughter-in-law, Mei Foong, must fend for her family as her husband, Weng Yu, becomes increasingly embittered. Challenged in ways she never could have imagined and forced into hiding, Mei Foong finds a deep reservoir of resilience she did not know she had and soon draws the attentions of another man.

Is Mei Foong’s resolve enough to save herself, her marriage, and her family? Only when peace returns to Malaya will she learn the full price she must pay for survival.




All summaries are from Goodreads! Happy Reading! 

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Heather, The Totality by Matthew Weiner

Review: 
I wasn't entirely sure what to expect from this short book so I grabbed it off my stacks on a whim last night and took it upstairs with me to read before bed. At 134 pages, Heather, The Totality by Matthew Weiner may seem like a harmless read but trust me, it is not. In those short 134 pages, Weiner is able to pull you into the present day of a family of three while also giving you enough character backstory and development at the beginning to feel like you do really care what happens to Heather and her parents. With four characters total and the streets of NYC as the setting, HTT pulls you in and doesn't let go until the final page. I am wary of saying too much (even the synopsis of this is rather short and vague, for good reason) but I will say that living alongside Mark and Karen and their daughter Heather for an hour last night had me turning each page wondering what was going to happen, where Matthew Weiner was taking all of us.

Matthew Weiner was the director of Mad Men (one of my favorite shows) so I was also curious as to what we would see of NYC as well as character development in this book. His vision and unique ability to create a seeming indifference in his characters while in actuality they may be a mess inside their heads is something that translated through to the screen during my years of watching Mad Men and in reading this, did so for the characters of HTT as well.

"...she had come to understand that you could never see yourself the way others did, and it was okay to appear isolated as long as you remember that you are not the way you are seen."

Recommendation: 
I would recommend this book to anyone looking for a quick, suspenseful read with a lot of interesting character development.

I gave this a rating of 3.5 stars on Goodreads and am thankful to Little Brown for the opportunity to read this in advance! It will be available for purchase October 31, 2017!


Heather, the Totality by Matthew Weiner 
134 pages
Published by Little Brown



Monday, July 10, 2017

The Garden of Small Beginnings by Abbi Waxman


I was so excited to receive a copy of The Garden of Small Beginnings by Abbi Waxman from Berkley Publishing! I've seen this adorable cover here and there, online and at the store, without knowing much about it at all. I have a tendency to gravitate towards heavier stories or historical fiction generally. I am SO thankful for the copy Berkely Publishing sent me because I DEVOURED this book. Like in two days.

The Garden of Small Beginnings follows the story of single mom Lili (recently widowed....well mostly recently, three years) and her two children, her quirky sister Rachel and a slew of other characters that make this story just all around enjoyable and entertaining. Lili is an illustrator (mostly computer based) for a publishing company who is asked to illustrate (by hand! with actual watercolors!) a gardening book. To do so, her company signs her up for a six week gardening class taught by the expert writing the book! ((There are SUPER adorable little gardening tips between each chapter too! I love when books add little things like that, recipes or clips from the newspaper in the town, etc.))

I literally was laughing out loud by chapter two, as we drove to a family function, so much so that my husband asked what was so funny. I don't laugh out loud while reading books often, even if they are funny. I also don't usually laugh out loud at funny movies or things in general (I know, its a weird quirk). So usually when I do, its something REALLY funny. Ill direct you to pages 8 and 9. That was my first laugh out loud moment.

There is so much in this book to praise! The story, while in another context could have been melancholy, brings the grief of widowhood along for the ride of everyday life and life with two kids, a dog, a crazy sister, a full time job. I appreciated Lili's honesty about missing her husband, missing his boxers on the ground and the constant fighting over money (true life). I also appreciated her honesty with the kids, with chicken nuggets for dinner and how getting older means less make-up because wrinkles. So many little truths found in this story!

Overall the symbolism of Lili's six week gardening class, spending time under the sun growing things alongside her own life moving forward and growing is pretty easy to see but still well done and makes for an enjoyable story. I would recommend this book to anyone looking for a funny female character who is living life and trying her best, who enjoys a few wacky truly laughable moments and wants to read something enjoyable! You won't regret it.

Thank you Berkley Publishing for this copy!

The Garden of Small Beginnings by Abbi Waxman
347 pages
Published by Berkley

Thursday, July 6, 2017

The Stars are Fire by Anita Shreve

One of my favorite things about finding an author you love is that you're usually not disappointed when they release another book. You know what to expect as far as writing and content (usually) and its much less of a gamble than randomly picking a book off the shelf!

I've been reading Anita Shreve's books since high school, about fifteen years ago? maybe ten...haha. The first book of hers that I read and fell in love with was Fortune's Rocks. My friend and I have reread that particular book multiple times since high school, as it has become somewhat of an old friend by now. I won't say I've read every single one (I haven't) or that I've loved every one that I have read (I haven't) but overall, I haven't been disappointed either. My favorite stories of Shreve's are those that take place in the past...particularly the stories that center around the house on the coast (it comes into play multiple times over a few different books, which is just such a neat element).

In The Stars Are Fire, Shreve takes an event from the past (the largest fire in Maine, which happened in 1947) and makes it a riveting back story to the main character Grace and her family. Grace is struggling to find happiness in her marriage, finding herself pregnant again (with two toddlers already) and constantly comparing herself to the neighbor across the street. As the fire burns through the Maine coast, Grace flees and finds herself no longer at the mercy of her husband and their old life. In a metaphorical way, the fire burns just as Grace's desire to live and enjoy beauty burns within her, until it has no where else to go but out.

I really enjoyed The Stars are Fire, Grace's struggles were not too far from ones I could easily put myself into and wonder what I would have done in the same situation. Being a mother is ridiculously hard sometimes and watching Grace struggle with her role as wife and mother in a time period when simply having her own money and car were cause for a husband to take them away, made me feel so grateful for where society is today. Grace's character is one that I will remember for a while, one of Anita Shreve's good ones.

I'd recommend this book to anyone who enjoys a little historical fiction, a strong female character who is working to overcome the odds set against her by time and gender roles and who most of all, is looking to be seen by someone, looking to be loved. If that all sounds great to you, then this should be your next read!


The Stars are Fire by Anita Shreve
241 pages
Published by Knopf

It's July! Let's read together!


Do you ever have one of those moments where you stop and look at the books on your shelf and just feel really melancholy about it all? Like, you start thinking about all the books you have and want to read and how many years that may take and that doesn't even begin to include the ones that haven't even been written yet!!?? Oh gosh. It's enough to make a true book lover just die of anxiety. 

July is no exception to this, there are SO many great books being released this summer. I've put together a list of what I'm looking forward to reading and I'm sure there will be more that I sneak in. June was a great month when it comes to how many books I was able to finish (thank you pregnancy insomnia!) and I'm looking forward to reading the ones pictured this month! 
1. The People We Hate at the Wedding by Grant Grinder: Because there are SO many weddings in the summer and sometimes its good to just be a little grumpy about it all.

2. See What I Have Done by Sarah Schmidt: A historical fiction account of the Lizzie Borden mystery!

3. A French Wedding by Hannah Tunnicliffe: Already finished this one! See review in previous post!

4. The Garden of Small Beginnings by Abbi Waxman: Perfect summer read, about a woman finding her way back to herself through a garden. Cannot wait to read this one!

5. The Salt House by Lisa Duffy: A bit heavier, I may save this one for when I'm ready to deal with some harder topics.

6. The Goddesses by Swan Huntley: Halfway through this one, already can promise you its worth reading. And moving to Hawaii!

7. Saints for All Occasions by J. Courtney Sullivan: Ive been SO excited for this one! A story of two sisters over the span of decades....love J. Courtney Sullivan's writing.