May 2011Monthly Archives

Jerusalem Maiden by Talia Carner

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Reason(s) for Reading:
  • My family on my mother’s side has Jewish blood and anything that has to do with Jerusalem, Bethlehem or pre-world war Jews in book form fascinates me.

Summary from Goodreads:

The poignant, colorful, and unforgettable story of a young woman in early 20th-century Jerusalem who must choose between her faith and her passion, Jerusalem Maiden heralds the arrival of a magnificent new literary voice, Talia Carner. In the bestselling vein of The Red Tent, The Kite Runner, and A Thousand Splendid Suns,  Jerusalem Maidenbrilliantly evokes the sights and sounds of the Middle East during the final days of the Ottoman Empire. Historical fiction and Bible lovers will be captivated by this thrilling tale of a young Jewish woman during a fascinating era, her inner struggle with breaking the Second Commandment, and her ultimate transcendence through self-discovery.

My Review:

Jerusalem Maiden was not at all what I expected.  I think after reading some fairly heavy Jewish stories in the last year I was expecting another similar to those, but instead got a very approachable, easy to read story about a young Jewish girl pre-WWI.

This isn’t a bad thing though.  I’m familiar with some Jewish traditions and rituals, but this book took them all to a new level with the strictness Esther and her family lived by those rules.  Just being kosher wasn’t even – but being raised, as a female, to be the “salvation” of the Jewish race and having all that weight put on you – I can’t even imagine.

I did struggle with the book a bit, and I can’t really recommend this book to those who are looking for a more religious themed novel due to some rather graphic sexual scenes and choices made by Esther.  In a way, the story reminded me of another of my favorites, A Long, Long Time Ago & Essentially True by Brigid Pasulka, except this story lacked the charm and fairy-tale like quality that book had, which made it seem more heavy.

I found Esther’s story to be a tragic one and, while I wasn’t sorry to see the story come to an end (it was just really depressing), I am glad I read this book just for the information I received about a time I really haven’t read that much about and a sect of the Jewish people I knew very little about.

About the Author

Talia Carner was the publisher of Savvy Woman magazine. A former adjunct professor at Long Island University School of Management and a marketing consultant to Fortune 500 companies, she was also a volunteer counselor and lecturer for the Small Business Administration and a member of United States Information Agency (USIA) missions to Russia. She participated at the 1995 International Women’s Conference in Beijing, where she sat on economic panels and helped develop political campaigns for Indian and African women. Ms. Carner’s first novel, PUPPET CHILD, was listed in “The Top 10 Favorite First Novels 2002” and launched a nationwide legislation (The Protective Parent Reform Act) that became the platform for two State Senatorial candidates. CHINA DOLL made Amazon’s bestsellers list and served as the platform for Ms. Carner’s presentation at the U.N. in 2007 about infanticide in China—the first ever in U.N. history. Over 30 of Carner’s short stories and dozens of award-winning essays have appeared in The New York Times, anthologies, and literary magazines. Her new novel, JERUSALEM MAIDEN, to be released in June 2011, deals with the place of women in extremely religious societies.

 

Ms. Carner is a board member of HBI, a research center for Jewish women’s life and culture at Brandeis University, and an honorary board member of several domestic violence and child abuse organizations. Her addictions include chocolate, ballet, hats—and social justice.
Talia Carner and her husband Ron have 4 grown children and reside in Manhattan and Bridgehampton, NY.


For more reviews on Jerusalem Maiden by Talia Carner, please follow the book tour.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from TLC Book Tours. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Don’t Breathe a Word by Jennifer McMahon

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Reason(s) for Reading:
  • The eyes on the cover.  They begged me to. And they promised mystery.

Summary from Goodreads:

On a soft summer night in Vermont, twelve-year-old Lisa went into the woods behind her house and never came out again. Before she disappeared, she told her little brother, Sam, about a door that led to a magical place where she would meet the King of the Fairies and become his queen.

Fifteen years later, Phoebe is in love with Sam, a practical, sensible man who doesn’t fear the dark and doesn’t have bad dreams—who, in fact, helps Phoebe ignore her own. But suddenly the couple is faced with a series of eerie, unexplained occurrences that challenge Sam’s hardheaded, realistic view of the world. As they question their reality, a terrible promise Sam made years ago is revealed—a promise that could destroy them all.

My Review:

Hello creepy fairy story.

This book is a thriller, no doubt about it.  It had all the elements of a creepy, spine-tingling terror, mixed with dark fantasy, mixed with just… strange family stuff that makes up the perfect page-turner.

Don’t Breathe a Word alternates between Lisa, 15 years before the present time, and Phoebe, in present time.  Lisa and Phoebe have a connection in that Phoebe had heard about Lisa’s disappearance and visited the house where Lisa lived, and while she was there she glimpsed Sam, her current partner.

Phoebe’s been through her tough knocks, but that’s nothing compared to the family that Sam comes from.  Filled with strange characters from Evie to his Aunt Hazel and his own parents, this story went from dark and spooky to incredibly creepy and twisted in a hurry.

I have one real complaint however, and it tends to be a common complaint with these types of books.  The climax is carefully worked toward in the first 75% of the book and it felt like the last 25% was just a haphazard rush of trying to spring the “TADA” on the reader all at once.  There was so much happening, so much that didn’t make a lot of sense and I’d have to go back and read it two or three times to understand the impact it was supposed to have.  I’m still not quite clear on a few things as well, which makes the resolution difficult.  I just would have hoped for a more clear explanation, or the same care taken to give it as was taken to build the story up to it.

I’m definitely interested in checking out more of Jennifer McMahon’s books, however.  I love getting caught up in a thriller and am always on the lookout for authors who craft an interesting story.

About the Author

For more reviews on Don’t Breathe a Word by Jennifer McMahon, please follow the book tour.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from TLC Book Tours. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

A Jane Austen Education by William Deresiewicz

A Jane Austen Education by William Deresiewicz
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Reason(s) for Reading:
  • Jane Austen with a paper-doll cut-out cover. I was hooked by the title and the pretty picture.

Summary from Goodreads:

Former Yale professor William Deresiewicz has been reading, teaching, and writing about Jane Austen for decades; now, at the conclusion of his academic career, he describes his almost lifelong personal encounter with an author whose insights transcend those revealed by mere scholarship. A Jane Austen Education illuminates the novelist’s craft by showing how her mastery of everyday relationships still speaks to our times. Deresiewicz’s unconventional memoir helps explain Austen’s extraordinary appeal among readers otherwise immune to classic literature.

My Review:

A man? Writing about Jane Austen?  Really?

Those were the first thoughts through my head when I took this book out of the shipping envelope it came in.  Then I remembered why I requested it – because I loved the cover and for that cover alone I was willing to give it a shot.

And as I began reading I began to really understand just why it’s a bit significant that a man wrote this book.

If you are anything like me, you’ve attempted to get at least one boyfriend to read Jane Austen.  And then you have heard them scoff at the suggestion. William Deresiewicz did the same – he thought of Jane Austen as inane, dull, she just didn’t match up to the other great writers.  He had pretentious thoughts based on his reading of Russian literature, of James Joyce and more.  And then he was faced with the prospect of reading Emma.

And so his love of Jane Austen began – but not at first. Oh no, first he needed to be taught a lesson, he needed to learn that life is to be enjoyed for the little things that happen every day and for the relationships we form about us.  This is just the first lesson.

This book wasn’t so much a memoir of Deresiewicz’s life as much as a lecture on Austen, I felt.  And I enjoyed it for being just that.  I found it smartly written, thought-provoking and filled with new insights (at least for me) on Austen’s works.  I really enjoyed my time reading this book and plan to recommend it!

About the Author

William Deresiewicz was an associate professor of English at Yale University until 2008 and is a widely published book critic. His reviews and essays have appeared in The New York Times, The New Republic, The Nation, Bookforum, and The American Scholar. He was nominated for National Magazine awards in 2008 and 2009 and the National Book Critics Circle’s Nona Balakian Citation for Excellence in Reviewing in 2010.”

For more reviews on A Jane Austen Education by William Deresiewicz, please follow the book tour.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from TLC Book Tours. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss

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Reason for Reading:
  • I’ve heard lots of buzz about this book and wanted to check it out.

I also recommend:

Summary from GoodReads:

The story revolves around Kvothe, an enigmatic red-haired innkeeper who, as he shares his incredible life story with a renowned scribe, turns out to be much more than he appears. Born into a family of nomadic court performers, Kvothe’s unconventional education was broadened by spending time with fellow travelers like Abenthy, an elderly arcanist whose knowledge included, among other things, knowing the name of the wind. After his parents are brutally murdered by mythical beings known as the Chandrian, Kvothe vows to learn more about the godlike group, and after suffering through years of homelessness, he finally gets his chance when he is admitted into the prestigious University. But the pursuit of arcane knowledge brings with it unforeseen dangers, as the young student quickly learns.

My Review:

I’ve read quite a few fantasy books in my lifetime, and I kept hearing about how amazing this book is, and after hearing that Patrick Rothfuss was interested in helping Nathan Fillion revive Firefly I decided to finally take the plunge and check out his work.

I wouldn’t compare this book to an epic fantasy journey on the level of Tolkien, but it was enjoyable and interesting.  The magic system was complex enough to have some depth to it and I found Kvothe to be full of mystery and intrigue and I alternated with liking him and wanting to smack him upside the head.

The Name of the Wind is something Kvothe struggles with, one of those illusions that aren’t actually an illusion and can be grasped fleetingly, almost impossible to understand.  But the book isn’t so much about that – while it is instrumental in some key moments in Kvothe’s life, I found that I enjoyed more the path Kvothe took with his family, his growth through the university and more.

The Name of the Wind is a worthwhile read, and kindled my curiosity enough to have me looking for the next book here shortly.

Check out these review(s):

It’s All About Books

The Book Smugglers

Island Beneath the Sea by Isabel Allende

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Reason(s) for Reading:
  • Sometimes I just want to read something a bit out of the norm for me.

Summary from Goodreads:

Born a slave on the island of Saint-Domingue, Zarité — known as Tété — is the daughter of an African mother she never knew and one of the white sailors who brought her into bondage. Though her childhood is one of brutality and fear, Tété finds solace in the traditional rhythms of African drums and in the voodoo loas she discovers through her fellow slaves.

When twenty-year-old Toulouse Valmorain arrives on the island in 1770, it’s with powdered wigs in his baggage and dreams of financial success in his mind. But running his father’s plantation, Saint-Lazare, is neither glamorous nor easy. It will be eight years before he brings home a bride — but marriage, too, proves more difficult than he imagined. And Valmorain remains dependent on the services of his teenaged slave.

Spanning four decades, Island Beneath the Sea is the moving story of the intertwined lives of Tété and Valmorain, and of one woman’s determination to find love amid loss, to offer humanity though her own has been battered, and to forge her own identity in the cruellest of circumstances.

 

My Review:

I’m not unfamiliar with sweeping sagas or stories of slaves – but I am unfamiliar with many of the events that were taking place around the time period of this story.  I’m not sure what made me interested in picking it up, but whatever it was.. I’m glad it did.

Island Beneath the Sea was the perfect book at the perfect time.  I didn’t feel like reading something off my bookshelf, or something of the genre’s I’m most comfortable in and I wanted something with depth, substance and grit to it and I got that in this book.  I found Isabel Allende’s writing to be musical and the story flowed in such an easy manner I always felt compelled to pick it back up, but never felt as if it was holding me in its grip either.

Tete and the surrounding cast of characters were filled with life, character and easily inspired sympathy.  I found myself cheering her on and completely absorbed in her life, which was even further aided by the switching from third-person to Tete’s point of view.

For historical novel fans, this is a book that is definitely out of the norm for the genre, but one that is just as fascinating, even though it doesn’t involve famous names or royalty.

About the Author

Isabel Allende’s website: http://www.isabelallende.com/.

For more reviews on Island Beneath the Sea by Isabel Allende, please follow the book tour.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from TLC Book Tours. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

It’s Monday, what are you reading?

Not much reading done this week, but I’m not too worried.  I finished a few great ones, am in the process for others and am loving the laid back schedule I have right now as I prepare to move.

Books I’ve read this week (Links to reviews):

  1. The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss

Books I’ve reviewed this week:

  1. The Secret Life of Josephine by Carrolly Erickson
  2. Mr. Chartwell by Rebecca Hunt
  3. Lost in Shangri-La by Mitchell Zuckoff

Books to read this week:

Island Beneath the Sea by Isabel Allende

The Enchanted April by Elizabeth von Arnim

The Secret Life of Josephine by Carolly Erickson

Order from:
Reason for Reading:
  • Beautiful cover, and I know next to nothing about Josephine.

I also recommend:

Summary from GoodReads:

The bestselling author of The Hidden Diary of Marie Antoinette and The Last Wife of Henry VIII returns with an enchanting novel about one of the most seductive women in history: Josephine Bonaparte, first wife of Napoleon.Born on the Caribbean island of Martinique, Josephine had an exotic Creole appeal that would ultimately propel her to reign over an empire as wife of the most powerful man in the world. But her life is a story of ambition and danger, of luck and a ferocious will to survive. Married young to an arrogant French aristocrat who died during the Terror, Josephine also narrowly missed losing her head to the guillotine. But her extraordinary charm, sensuality, and natural cunning helped her become mistress to some of the most powerful politicians in post-revolutionary France. Soon she had married the much younger General Bonaparte, whose armies garnered France an empire that ran from Europe to Africa and the New World and who crowned himself and his wife Emperor and Empress of France. He dominated on the battlefield and she presided over the worlds of fashion and glamour. But Josephine’s heart belonged to another man–the mysterious, compelling stranger who had won her as girl in Martinique.

My Review:

I read a lot of books.  I read a lot of historical fiction books, but never have I read anything about France during King Louis XVI’s reign nor about Napoleon.  I find that odd, now that I think about it – especially considering that in this year alone I’ve read two books which overlap over King Louis and Marie Antoinette’s deaths.

I’ll be honest, it took me a bit of time to get into The Secret Life of Josephine.  It was strange and I knew next to nothing about her earlier life so I felt a little lost – but then things seemed to clear up a bit.  Although it’s obvious that Carolly Erickson took some liberties (with voodoo/witchcraft), she did do a fantastic job of giving us exactly what she intended to give: historical entertainment.

As a result of the embellishment given to the story, it had all of the classic elements to make a suspenseful, romantic, thrilling story.  Arranged marriages, politics, intrigue, war .. everything was present and in the middle of it all – Josephine, an incredibly strong woman fighting for love, her children and her life.

This was a bargain buy for me, purchased spur of the moment and I’m glad it ended up being a worthwhile read.  And it’s sparked massive interest in Josephine, so I plan on checking out a non-fiction look at her life soon.

Check out these review(s):

Historically Obsessed

Mr. Chartwell by Rebecca Hunt

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Reason for Reading:
  • I’m into quirky, British-y books lately and this one looked interesting.

I also recommend:

Summary from GoodReads:

July 1964. Chartwell House, Kent: Winston Churchill wakes at dawn. There’s a dark, mute “presence” in the room that focuses on him with rapt concentration.

It’s Mr. Chartwell.

Soon after, in London, Esther Hammerhans, a librarian at the House of Commons, goes to answer the door to her new lodger. Through the glass she sees a vast silhouette the size of a mattress.

It’s Mr. Chartwell.

Charismatic, dangerously seductive, Mr. Chartwell unites the eminent statesman at the end of his career and the vulnerable young woman. But can they withstand Mr. Chartwell’s strange, powerful charms and his stranglehold on their lives? Can they even explain who or what he is and why he has come to visit?

In this utterly original, moving, funny, and exuberant novel, Rebecca Hunt explores how two unlikely lives collide as Mr. Chartwell’s motives are revealed to be far darker and deeper than they at first seem.

My Review:

While I do not feel the summary shows this novel in the light it should have been shown, Mr. Chartwell definitely takes it’s place among some of the most unique, interesting books I’ve read.  I approached the story believing there’d be more interaction between the famous Mr. Churchill and Esther but instead, found more of a coincidental connection and just one small scene with both involved.  This disappointed me a bit, but something else made up for that disappointment.

Having dealt with depression in my own life, I can attest to how it is like what Ms. Hunt portrays Mr. Chartwell to be.  A mangy, annoying, loud dog skulking about, refusing to leave, worming his way into your every thought.  At first I was a bit annoyed by the appearance of a creature I thought belonged in a fantasy book, but as the novel progressed I began to see Mr. Chartwell for who he was and what he represented, and then things began to get interesting.

Even if depression is not something you’ve ever dealt with, this book gives each reader a solid look at what it is like to be in those black depths, to feel the despair and annoyance and be completely unable to claw your way back to the light.  It gives a picture of what it is like to overcome and to succumb and I think it’s a read that was definitely worthy of my time.

Check out these review(s):

Lady Scribble’s Book Lounge

Lost in Shangri-La: A True Story of Survival, Adventure, and the Most Incredible Rescue Mission of World War II by Mitchell Zuckoff

Lost in Shangri-La: A True Story of Survival, Adventure, and the Most Incredible Rescue Mission of WWII by Mitchell Zuckoff
Order from:
Reason(s) for Reading:
  • I was interested in this book because my brother-in-law likes reading WWII stories, so I thought it might interest him as well.

Summary from Goodreads:

n May 13, 1945, twenty-four American servicemen and WACs boarded a transport plane for a sightseeing trip over Shangri-La, a beautiful and mysterious valley deep within the jungle-covered mountains of Dutch New Guinea. Unlike the peaceful Tibetan monks of James Hilton’s bestselling novel Lost Horizon, this Shangri-La was home to spear-carrying tribesmen, warriors rumored to be cannibals. But the pleasure tour became an unforgettable battle for survival when the plane crashed.Miraculously, three passengers pulled through. Margaret Hastings, barefoot and burned, had no choice but to wear her dead best friend’s shoes. John McCollom, grieving the death of his twin brother also aboard the plane, masked his grief with stoicism. Kenneth Decker, too, was severely burned and suffered a gaping head wound.

Emotionally devastated, badly injured, and vulnerable to the hidden dangers of the jungle, the trio faced certain death unless they left the crash site. Caught between man-eating headhunters and enemy Japanese, the wounded passengers endured a harrowing hike down the mountainside–a journey into the unknown that would lead them straight into a primitive tribe of superstitious natives who had never before seen a white man or woman.

Drawn from interviews, declassified U.S. Army documents, personal photos and mementos, a survivor’s diary, a rescuer’s journal, and original film footage, Lost in Shangri-La recounts this incredible true-life adventure for the first time. Mitchell Zuckoff reveals how the determined trio–dehydrated, sick, and in pain–traversed the dense jungle to find help; how a brave band of paratroopers risked their own lives to save the survivors; and how a cowboy colonel attempted a previously untested rescue mission to get them out.

By trekking into the New Guinea jungle, visiting remote villages, and rediscovering the crash site, Zuckoff also captures the contemporary natives; remembrances of the long-ago day when strange creatures fell from the sky. A riveting work of narrative nonfiction that vividly brings to life an odyssey at times terrifying, enlightening, and comic, Lost in Shangri-La is a thrill ride from beginning to end.

 

My Review:

I’m not usually a non-fiction, war story type of reader but when I saw this title listed on the TLC Tours as an available review option I didn’t have to think long.  I mean, the title alone is quite the eye-catcher and then, once the book was received, I read the first few pages and immediately was hooked.

One of the most compelling aspects of this book is Zuckoff’s desire to acquaint the reader with the individual history and events leading up to each “central” character in this story.  Rather than letting us read a bone-dry rehashing of the actual events, each survivor (and even those who didn’t survive) were talked about, introduced and made to feel real so that when the fateful moment occurred, I felt a sense of loss and grief.

Interspersed through the pages of the book are pictures, allowing the reader to not only learn about the people but to put a face to the name and that made it even more real to me.

The story itself is an incredible one.  Beyond incredible.  When you take into consideration all of the events leading up to the eventual rescue of Margaret Hastings, John McCollom and Kenneth Decker, it seems incredible that everything fell so neatly into place.  The bravery of those three individuals and their rescuers astounds me and made me feel a sense of pride and wonder at their strength and endurance through something that I cannot even imagine getting through myself.

If you have a reader fond of WWII stories, if you are fond of non-fiction or.. if you want to take a chance to read a story that needs to be told and talked about then this is a perfect, prime example of one.

 

About the Author

For more reviews on Lost in Shangri-La by Mitchell Zuckoff, please follow the book tour.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from TLC Book Tours. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

It’s Monday, what are you reading?

It’s been a while since I’ve done this – but that’s okay because it meant I pulled an A in a class that was incredibly difficult for me.  But now I’m back – and although another class has started this week I feel confident that I can make some time to read – determined even to make that time.

Books I’ve read this week (Links to reviews):

  1. The Hunchback of Neiman Marcus by Sonya Sones
  2. The Rebellion of Jane Clarke by Sally Gunning
  3. Hotel Paradise by Martha Grimes
  4. East of Eden by John Steinbeck
  5. Lost in Shangri-La by Mitchell Zuckoff
  6. The Secret Life of Josephine by Carrolly Erickson

Books to read this week:

The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss

The Enchanted April by Elizabeth von Arnim

Bear