Book Review: The Deepest Secret by Carla Buckley

Book Review: The Deepest Secret by Carla BuckleyThe Deepest Secret by Carla Buckley
Published by Random House LLC on 2014-02-04
Genres: Contemporary Women, Fiction, Sagas, Suspense, Thrillers
Pages: 448
Format: eARC
Source: Random House
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For fans of Jodi Picoult, Kim Edwards, and William Landay, The Deepest Secret is part intimate family drama, part gripping page-turner, exploring the profound power of the truths we’re scared to face . . . about our marriages, our children, and ourselves.   Eve Lattimore’s family is like every other on their suburban street, with one exception. Her son Tyler has a rare medical condition that makes him fatally sensitive to light, which means heavy curtains and deadlocked doors protect him during the day and he can never leave the house except at night. For Eve, only constant vigilance stands between an increasingly restless teenage son and the dangers of the outside world.   Until the night the unthinkable happens. When tragedy strikes, it becomes clear that this family is not the only one on the quiet cul-de-sac that is more complicated than it appears. And as Eve is forced to shield her family from harm, there are some crises she cannot control—and some secrets that not even love can conceal.   Deeply moving and stunningly suspenseful, The Deepest Secret is a novel of rare power—a story about hope and forgiveness, about the terrifying ways our lives can spin out of control and the unexpected sacrifices that may save us.Praise for The Deepest Secret  “Smart and thrilling . . . a taut family drama about a mother blindly obsessed with protecting her teen son from the UV light that could kill him.”—People   “A harrowing story.”—New York Daily News   “Daring . . . Buckley takes readers into the grayest area imaginable. . . . Though often heart-wrenching, the extensive emotional development Buckley packs into a world of everyday life overlaid by nightmare will leave readers wondering how far they might go for their loved ones, and the additional moral conundrums faced by each member of Eve’s family will provide hearty book club discussion fodder. As winding and treacherous as a slick road, this masterful thriller will leave readers clutching their chests.”—Shelf Awareness   “In Buckley’s superb third novel, ordinary human nature and extraordinary circumstances collide to powerful effect. The story offers the intricate suspense and surprise of a thriller, along with rich characterizations and nuanced writing. . . . Ultimately, Buckley delivers a gripping read and a memorable reflection on the conflicting imperatives of love.”—Publishers Weekly (starred review)“The Deepest Secret is one of Carla Buckley’s finest accomplishments. Fans of Jodi Picoult will enjoy this compelling blend of ripped-from-the-headlines suspense and close-to-your-heart characters.”—Lisa Gardner, #1 New York Times bestselling author   “Every family is vulnerable, and every parent knows it. Carla Buckley masterfully portrays an ordinary family trapped in a heart-wrenching crisis. A memorable novel about how far a parent will go for her child, The Deepest Secret will make you count your blessings.”—William Landay, New York Times bestselling author of Defending Jacob   “Elegant, poignant, and utterly riveting, The Deepest Secret is a suspenseful tale of love, forgiveness, and sacrifice that will leave you asking how far a mother really should go to protect her family and wondering about the cost of the secrets we all keep, even from ourselves.”—Kimberly McCreight, New York Times bestselling author of Reconstructing Amelia

I received this book for free from Random House in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

I also recommend:

  • Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
  • Night Film by Marisha Pessl
My Review:

I seem to be reading quite a few books that center around the community that forms within the confines of a suburban neighborhood.  I can immediately think of at least half a dozen books I’ve read in the past six months or so that have this theme and, considering the diversity of what I tend to read, that’s pretty outstanding.  I don’t know if it’s a theme to watch for, or if right now with so much in the world going crazy between school shootings and other attacks happening on children, it is something that is prominent in people’s (see: authors) minds.  And, as you have no doubt surmised, it was the theme in The Deepest Secret by Carla Buckley.

So the question is this: if you had a child who only had a limited time on this early due to a rare and serious disease, and you did something that could compromise the time you spent with that child and, quite possibly, the child’s well-being, would you own up to what you did?  That is the question that Eve faces.  Her son, Tyler, has a rare disease that makes UV quite dangerous to him – as in fatal.  She has taken care of him, given up everything for him, and now – due to circumstances beyond her control, she commits an act that would see her taken away from him for an extended period of time.

Buckley studies the dynamics of the decision that Eve makes within the context of the neighborhood as a whole.  Some of the issues the family of a child with XP faces are brought to light as well as the behavior of the child that may be the result.  Sometimes, Tyler’s behavior confused me and that is, ultimately, why the book didn’t get a 4-5 star rating…because there seemed to be quite a bit going on that just didn’t make sense, given the complete control Eve supposedly had over Tyler’s life.

As a mystery/suspense novel, however, this one had me biting my nails with worry.  I kept telling myself not to care so much about Eve – but I couldn’t help it.  My heart ached for her and The Deepest Secret, if nothing else, showed me that seemingly black and white decisions are not always quite so black and white.

Check out these reviews!

  • “I thought the progression of the entire story could have moved along at a faster clip. But it’s well written, and I had no problem sticking with it.” – Annette’s Book Spot
  • “Though I am usually not a big fan of the multiple person point of view it did work in t his book because the chapters were cut nice and clean with a beginning and an end and the time line made sense” – Ciska’s Book Chest
  • “This was my first book by Carla Buckley, and I absolutely loved it.  ” – Random Book Muses

Book Review: The Wives of Los Alamos by TaraShea Nesbit

The Wives of Los Alamos by TaraShea Nesbit

  • Method of Obtaining: I received a copy from the publisher.
  • Published by:  Bloomsbury USA
  • Release Date:  02.25.2014

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Their average age was twenty-five. They came from Berkeley, Cambridge, Paris, London, Chicago—and arrived in New Mexico ready for adventure, or at least resigned to it. But hope quickly turned to hardship as they were forced to adapt to a rugged military town where everything was a secret, including what their husbands were doing at the lab. They lived in barely finished houses with a P.O. box for an address in a town wreathed with barbed wire, all for the benefit of a project that didn’t exist as far as the public knew. Though they were strangers, they joined together—adapting to a landscape as fierce as it was absorbing, full of the banalities of everyday life and the drama of scientific discovery.

And while the bomb was being invented, babies were born, friendships were forged, children grew up, and Los Alamos gradually transformed from an abandoned school on a hill into a real community: one that was strained by the words they couldn’t say out loud, the letters they couldn’t send home, the freedom they didn’t have. But the end of the war would bring even bigger challenges to the people of Los Alamos, as the scientists and their families struggled with the burden of their contribution to the most destructive force in the history of mankind.

The Wives of Los Alamos is a novel that sheds light onto one of the strangest and most monumental research projects in modern history, and a testament to a remarkable group of women who carved out a life for themselves, in spite of the chaos of the war and the shroud of intense secrecy.

I also recommend:

My Review:

The Wives of Los Alamos by TaraShea Nesbit is one of the most interesting reads of the year for me.  Nesbit uses a distinct, unusual writing style to capture the community of women who, as a whole, were uprooted from their homes and lives and moved to the desert to live in a community that thrives on secrets and gossip.  The story in this book is set during WWII and examines the lives of the academics who, for whatever physical reason, did not qualify to enlist and instead were used for their brainpower to develop a secret project after the bombing of Pearl Harbor by the Japanese.

I want to talk a bit about the story, but first I need to talk about the narrative style of the book.  Nesbit boldly chose to write in first person collective; i.e. the “we” and “us” replacing the “I.”  It’s strange, at first, because some of the actions taken by the husband can lead the reader into thinking that there are multiple wives per husband, but once the story starts moving, the writing style fades into the background just enough for it to actually start to make sense.

Nesbit is trying to tell the story of a large group of women in The Wives of Los Alamos.  She casts a wide net, attempting to do a broad survey, rather than an intimate look at only a few select women.  The group was so diverse that it would have been impossible to see the bigger picture without focusing on the little things in any other style.  I really appreciated her decision to use the first person collective because I walked away from the book thinking about the community and what it would have felt like to live in Los Alamos, to deal with the secretive nature of their husbands jobs, to struggle with lack of water, lack of food, lack of comforts.

The other effect that the style has on the book is it removes the reader from the characters.  It’s like we are given a large picture with moving people on it and it’s not important to know names or exact jobs because what we are studying is how the community worked and admiring the diverse nature of those who were brought together.  And then, there’s the purpose of why they are there.  I think you would have a general idea from reading the summary and thinking about the timeline of WWII.  I know I did.  It came as no surprise when the reveal happened about what was going on in Los Alamos – but what did come as a surprise was how it was all revealed.

I really recommend The Wives of Los Alamos.  There’s been some criticism about the writing style and how hard it is to read, or how various readers’ attention wandered, but it’s worth it to stick through and read to the end.  Soon, it becomes a sort of rhythm and that’s when the book really starts to blossom.  Give it a chance and I bet you will walk away with the same appreciation that I did.

Check out what these bloggers had to say!

Betsy Reads Books | This Charming Mum | Book’d Out


Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten Tuesday Rewind


Top Ten Tuesday is a fantastic meme hosted and created by The Broke and the Bookish.

I cannot tell you how happy I am that this weeks Top Ten Tuesday is a rewind theme…because the last few weeks have been busy so I missed a Top Ten Tuesday that I Really, Really wanted to do (yes, I meant to capitalize those Really’s).  Which one you ask?  Why … Top Ten Books That Will Make You Cry, I answer.  I love a good book that will tear the heart-wrenching, gut-deep sobs out of me and these are the ones that had me in tears.  Why do I love that?  Because it’s like this huge emotional cleanser.  Usually I lump all of the other things I’ve been wanting to cry about into the mix and…well.. this way I don’t have to explain.  I just point to the book and continue my sobfest.  So, here I go, in no particular order.

1. Last Night I Sang to the Monster by Benjamin Alire Saenz

Saenz is a new author to me and, while I absolutely adored the first book I picked up of his (Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe), this one, especially the end, completely wrecked me.  It’s a beautifully written tale of addiction and recovery and life and I highly recommend it.

2. A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

This one made me cry out of nowhere.  One moment I’m very touched, the next my sister is looking at me wondering what the heck is going on.  It was such a personal moment, I was actually surprised to find myself sitting in the living room – I’d completely forgotten where I was.  This is a beautiful story about grief and loss and the process of healing.

3.  Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend by Matthew Green

This book… this book made me truly appreciate those kids that grow up needing a friend.  I loved reading about a life from the perspective of the imaginary friend and found myself in tears more than once.  A very, very touching book and one that I still think about regularly.

4.  Every Day by David Levithan

The sheer beauty of the story and writing in this book makes me weep even as I just remember it.  I love the depiction of love here – that it can transcend all barriers and be something greater than size, shape, and color.

5. The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

I really debated not putting this book on the list because, let’s face it, I’m sure it was on everyone’s list.  But this is Top Ten Tuesday Rewind and this book made me sob harder then I have ever sobbed before.  In fact, it’s on my shelf for a re-read very soon (and I cannot wait for the movie).

6. The Princess Bride by William Goldman

This is one of my most recommended books.  If you haven’t read it and think the movie watching experience is enough, please, for the love of all things inconceivable, pick up the book and be enlightened.  I cry from laughter and from heartache every time I read this book.  Then, I go through a mourning period because I know I will never have a Wesley in my life.

7. 8th Grade Superzero by Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich

Four words. Dora the Explorer shoes.  You will cry, I promise.

8. Bel Canto by Ann Patchett

This is the book that made a Patchett fan out of me.  This is the only book I’ve read where I experienced this moment of silence in my head as the last big scene played out.  I could see it in my imagination, could even picture the slow-motion a movie might do.  It stunned me, and I wept from the beauty and sadness of it.

9. Here be Dragons by Sharon Kay Penman

The story of Joanna and Llewelyn is, in my opinion, the best love story in all of English history.  I read this book years ago and I am afraid to pick it up again because of the force of the emotions that it brought out in me.

10. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

Beth.  Oh lovely Beth.

What books make you cry but you love them all the same?

Book Review: Belle Cora by Phillip Margulies

Book Review: Belle Cora by Phillip MarguliesBelle Cora by Phillip Margulies
Published by Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group on 2014-01-07
Genres: Biographical, Fiction, General, Historical, Romance
Pages: 608
Format: eARC
Source: Knopf Doubleday Publishing
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A sweeping historical novel based on the extraordinary life and times of Belle Cora, the daughter of a New York merchant who went on to become a millworker, a prostitute, a notorious madam, a murderess, and eventually one of San Francisco's richest and most revered dowagers. Some people remember her as Arabella Godwin, others as Harriet Knowles, and still more as Frances Andersen or other names too numerous to list. But let there be no confusion, this is the legendary story of Belle Cora (1828-1919), who survived by her wits and made a fortune off the greed and lust of men. Orphaned at age nine, Belle and her brother, Lewis, are sent to live with their devoutly religious aunt and uncle in rural upstate New York. Nothing can prepare her for the cruelty of her watchful, jealous cousin Agnes, who would become a lifelong rival and enemy. Yet there, Belle also meets the love of her life, Jeptha Talbot. As she blossoms into a true beauty, however, two horrendous events separate her from Jeptha and Lewis. Heartbroken, Belle flees the countryside and finds work in a mill, where she is exposed to the looser morals of hard luck women and begins to harden into the powerful, cunning woman she will become. Soon Belle finds herself in New York, where life takes a dark but alluring turn as she succumbs to the indulgent lifestyle of a highly sought-after prostitute to the city's wealthiest men. But beneath the silk and taffeta layers, she harbors a deep longing to be reunited with Jeptha, now a respected preacher. The road back to him will take her on a treacherous journey from the town houses of Manhattan to the dusty streets of San Francisco at the height of the Gold Rush. It's a road of good intentions, but paved with secrets and lies on which the conniving, sometimes ruthless Belle must transform herself again and again to get what she wants. This is the spellbinding story of the devious exploits of a singular woman ahead of her time. Be prepared to be swept away by Belle Cora.

I received this book for free from Knopf Doubleday Publishing in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

I also recommend:

My Review:

I saw the cover for Belle Cora months ago – I believe it was with the initial buzz going around on the book blogs.  I was fascinated and I can’t really explain why.  Every once in a while I get a bee in my bonnet and decide that I want to read some epic life story and usually I zone in on the most innocuous of things.  The corset on the cover of Belle Cora, the roses on the cover of Leila Meacham’s Roses, the word Eden in Steinbeck’s East of Eden (I’m not comparing books, just epic journeys dealing with someone’s life).  Next thing you know, I’m obsessed and, in spite of knowing, usually, that the little thing I’m fixed on may not make up for the entire book, I still dive in the first chance I get.

Now, with Phillip Margulies story, thankfully, I wasn’t disappointed.  I was promised the tale of an epic life and I was given that.  Arabella Godwin not only lives in the pages of Belle Cora, but she leaps off them quite often.  She is larger than life, but she had to be – considering the life she led in the story.  And, as Belle Cora was loosely based on some real historical figures, well… as you can imagine, I was caught up in the story fairly quickly.

As all of these stories go, there’s usually heartbreak of some sort.  From Arabella’s riches to rags story through her years as a self-supporting woman until the end…when her family is left instructions that will allow her story to be finally free, I was caught.  I loved Arabella’s strength, and her ability to make some really tough choices.  I grieved for the things that life threw her way and caused her to be put in that place, of course, but I love seeing a woman rise above it all and make something of her life.

Belle Cora has a little bit of something but it’s tastefully lacking in what you might think it might contain in abundance.  Margulies knew how to tell his story without resorting to cheap tricks and tasteless sex scenes.  As a result, the story is even more powerful because it rises above a profession and, instead, showcases a woman.

Check out these reviews!

  • “I was extremely pleased with this novel and recommend it to anyone who likes a good protagonist with an awesome backstory!” – Charming Chelsey’s
  • “Long live good girls gone bad! A stunning read and an unforgettable story!” – The Lit Bitch
  • “This book was incredibly well written, engrossing and heartwarming/edge of seat intensity that masterfully doesn’t beat you over the head. ” – A Book and a Review

Book Review: The Music Room by Dennis McFarland

Book Review: The Music Room by Dennis McFarlandThe Music Room by Dennis McFarland
Published by Macmillan on 2001-03-07
Genres: Fiction, Literary
Pages: 288
Format: eARC
Source: Macmillan
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In an incredible novel of devastating beauty, Martin Lambert must come to terms with the aftermath of his brother's suicide. Replaying sad melodies of his affluent youth, Martin embarks on a poignant journey through his family's haunted past--an unforgettable voyage of self-discovery that leads him from a childhood tainted by shocking parental abuse to a present clouded by alcoholic despair and desperate love - and, ultimately, toward a future of understanding, redemption and hope.

I received this book for free from Macmillan in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

I also recommend:

My Review:

Sometimes I pick up a book and, in spite of it and my best intentions, we don’t click.  I thought The Music Room was off to a running start when I began to read the story of a man who had just learned that his brother took his own life – I mean, that’s a hard-hitting entrance to a story, right?  Unfortunately (and this is not a morbid joke), everything went down from that high moment.  I struggled with The Music Room , folks.  This one slowed me down, big time, and honestly – for a while, it made me regret even trying to carve out time to read.

Still, I finished it.  I finished it because I hadn’t finished a book in a while and this one I was determined to get through.  I was bullheaded and trudged through and, I will admit it, I had fond hopes that the story would redeem itself at the end.  Now I’m writing this review about a month away from having finished the book and I’m sad to say that I’m really struggling to even remember the ending.  That’s how little of an impact this one had on me.

With all that said, let me talk a few specifics – both good and bad.  The good was that beginning.  I was immediately caught in the story and, as I mentioned earlier, had hopes that this would be the book to break me out of a reading funk. McFarland introduces his characters well and I was interested in them.  It’s the mystery that really didn’t work for me.  Rather than face up to the fact that his brother is dead, we are inundated with all sorts of information and characters showing up (I can think of one in particular) who really don’t do anything for the actual story other than produce a flimsy excuse of trouble before vanishing without any sort of resolution.   The combination of mystery and self-exploration ended up with a product that felt muddled and confusing and, rather than receive any sort of enlightened insight into the mind of a grieving man, I was frustrated and upset that I couldn’t connect with the story.

I wish I could recommend The Music Room , but I think there are other books out there that deal with grief like this in a much more coherent way while still retaining beauty in the style of storytelling and character development.  While I’m glad I finished this one, I’m pretty upset with myself that I wasted so much time on something that I would remember so little of, when all is said and done.

Check out these reviews!

  • “Dennis McFarland knows how to tell a story, slipping easily from the past of the central narrative into the present of memory, with all scenes past and present moving relentlessly forward.” – Catching Days

Book Review: The Swan Gondola by Timothy Schaffert

Book Review: The Swan Gondola by Timothy SchaffertThe Swan Gondola by Timothy Schaffert
Published by Penguin Group USA on 2014-02-06
Genres: Fiction, Historical, Literary
Pages: 384
Format: eARC
Source: Penguin Group USA
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A lush and thrilling romantic fable about two lovers set against the scandalous burlesques, midnight séances, and aerial ballets of the 1898 Omaha World's Fair. On the eve of the 1898 Omaha World's Fair, Ferret Skerritt, ventriloquist by trade, con man by birth, isn't quite sure how it will change him or his city. Omaha still has the marks of a filthy Wild West town, even as it attempts to achieve the grandeur and respectability of nearby Chicago. But when he crosses paths with the beautiful and enigmatic Cecily, his whole purpose shifts and the fair becomes the backdrop to their love affair. One of a traveling troupe of actors that has descended on the city, Cecily works in the Midway's Chamber of Horrors, where she loses her head hourly on a guillotine playing Marie Antoinette. And after closing, she rushes off, clinging protectively to a mysterious carpetbag, never giving Ferret a second glance. But a moonlit ride on the swan gondola, a boat on the lagoon of the New White City, changes everything, and the fair's magic begins to take its effect. From the critically acclaimed author of The Coffins of Little Hope, The Swan Gondola is a transporting read, reminiscent of Water for Elephants or The Night Circus.

I received this book for free from Penguin Group USA in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

I also recommend:

My Review:

It’s not often that I pick up a book that ends up completely surprising me by the time the end comes around.  The Swan Gondola did exactly that.  It surprised me in a few ways.  First, it referenced one of my favorite childhood stories in a subtle, tasteful, and…really, quite perfect way.  Second, it brought to mind one of my favorite (and the newest work) books of Neil Gaiman.  Schaffert beautifully mixes history, intrigue, romance, love, and a bit of magic in a way that took me back to my childhood in Omaha, Nebraska through the referencing of streets, of history, and of a time long past when Omaha was living a dream of becoming a real “white city.”  I loved reading the history of the place I spent my youth, and I loved even more reading the story of a man who just fell in love and desperately wanted to make a life with the woman he fell head over heels for.

If you are a fan of movies like Big Fish or shows like Pushing Daisies, or if you love magical realism from Neil Gaiman to Sarah Addison Allen, then put Timothy Schaffert’s book, The Swan Gondola, on your list.  From the very first chapter I absolutely fell in love with Ferret Skirrett (although, not with his name).  I wanted to be in the book, to be embraced by the pages and the story and view the sights that were being described.  I already have nurtured a huge fascination with World Fairs but this one is special to me – it’s one that referenced places I’ve been, streets that I’ve walked on.

Schaffert’s ability to tell a story that involved a very colorful cast of characters is only superseded by his ability to incorporate some really out there ideas (especially for the time period) in a way that was subtle and tastefully done.  I loved Ferritt’s friends August and Rosie, I adored the idea of using an incubator as a nanny (you have to read the book, seriously), and I loved the idea of a well-known story being turned on its head and beginning in a way that was completely unexpected.

If I were to read this book for the first time again, I would go into it just as I did this time.  Completely unaware of the connections to any other stories or ideas.  I loved exploring the tale before realizing what was happening and I would recommend The Swan Gondola whole-heartedly to anyone who loves entertainment, history, fairs, magic, and just plain, old-fashioned good storytelling.

Check out these reviews!

  • “Although I don’t usually go for novels about circuses and fairs and things of that sort (maybe stemming from a fear of clowns I had as a child… but I digress), I absolutely loved this one.” – Reading the Past
  • The Swan Gondola is a beautiful story. Mr. Schaffert’s descriptions are deliciously vital, and his narrative cuts right to the emotional heart of any situation. ” – That’s what She Read
  • “At its heart The Swan Gondola is a traditional love story set in a magical world.  It is an unforgettable novel and it captured my heart.” Book-alicious Mama

Book Review: The Forbidden Queen by Anne O’Brien

Book Review: The Forbidden Queen by Anne O’BrienThe Forbidden Queen by Anne O'Brien
Published by Mira Books Limited on 2013
Genres: Historical
Pages: 643
Format: eARC
Source: Mira Books
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1415. Katherine de Valois, the jewel in the French crown. An innocent locked up by her mother, Queen Isabeau, and kept pure as a prize for the English king slaughtering her kinsmen on the battlefields of Agincourt. No matter the cost, Isabeau is determined to deliver Katherine into the loveless arms of Henry V. But the Valois blood is worth less than she had brokered. Henry will take Katherine, not for her beauty, not for a treaty of peace - for nothing less than the glittering French crown itself.

I received this book for free from Mira Books in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

I also recommend:

My Review:

I’ve read quite a few historical novels centering around England’s royal family and its bloody history, but The Forbidden Queen by Anne O’Brien is the first book I’ve read that deals with Katherine de Valois exclusively.  What a story she had.  While I wish O’Brien had spent more time on her youth, I can understand that the information available about that time period may not be as plentiful as I wish, so I am happy to settle for the little we receive in The Forbidden Queen, and am grateful that it was there to set up a remarkable story.

Katherine, as a queen, isn’t one of my favorites in English history.  She seemed a bit weak, especially for being the Queen that begat the great Tudor line.  She grew up with a mother who slept around quite liberally and a mad father, so I have to give her a bit of a break, but still…you would think that her hard life as a child would have prepared her for the demands placed upon her as a wife, and then a widowed Queen.  For, as we all know, her husband, Henry V, died early into their marriage, leaving her with a young son, Henry VI, and no future ahead of her.

If you are wanting a story that will completely play on your sympathies, then this is the one.  Katherine has to fight repeatedly for her own happiness and only succeeds by outwardly flaunting the law – but it takes a while to get there.  She, like her mother before her, creates scandal…although their methods are quite different.  What I really loved was the latter half of the novel when Katherine and Owen Tudor’s story comes to life.  I thought O’Brien did a beautiful job of portraying their forbidden love  in The Forbidden Queen and tackling the difficulties that must have surrounded it.

Check out these reviews!

  • “Recommended for those readers eager for the story of Katherine and her heart’s content, and her woes” – Burton Book Review
  • “The freshness of the characters and their plot, O’Brien’s deft writing — it all adds up to a great, atmospheric historical read.” – Ageless Pages Reviews
  • “I highly recommend this book to all historical fiction lovers who want to learn a little more about how the Tudor dynasty was started and about a woman in history isn’t often recognized..” Girl Lost in a Book

Book Review: Stillwater by Nicola Lea Helget

Book Review: Stillwater by Nicola Lea HelgetStillwater by Nicole Lea Helget
Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt on 2014
Genres: Fiction, Historical, Literary
Pages: 326
Format: eARC
Source: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
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Clement and Angel are fraternal twins separated at birth; they grow up in the same small, frontier logging town of Stillwater, Minnesota. Clement was left at the orphanage. Angel was adopted by the town’s richest couple, but is marked and threatened by her mother’s mental illness. They rarely meet, but Clement knows if he is truly in need, Angel will come to save him. Stillwater, near the Mississippi River and Canada, becomes an important stop on the Underground Railroad. As Clement and Angel grow up and the country marches to war, their lives are changed by many battles for freedom and by losses in the struggle for independence, large and small. Stillwater reveals the hardscrabble lives of pioneers, nuns, squaws, fur trappers, loggers, runaway slaves and freedmen, outlaws and people of conscience, all seeking a better, freer, more prosperous future. It is a novel about mothers, about siblings, about the ways in which we must take care of one another and let go of one another. And it’s brought to us in Nicole Helget’s winning, gorgeous prose.

I received this book for free from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

I also recommend:

My Review:

I love historical fiction and, while I love a good European fiction novel as much as the next fan, there’s something just.. special about reading American historical fiction.  So when I picked up Stillwater, as intrigued as I was about the twin angle, I was even more so excited about the historical angle – the underground railroad, the becoming of Minnesota as a state (a setting for a story I hadn’t come across yet), you get the idea.  And while I was interested by the story, it just seemed as if there was something off – something that took away from my pure enjoyment.  After giving it some thought, I think I’ve finally figured out what that off-putting thing is.

You see, Stillwater is told in a very choppy kind of way.  Similar to a short-story style, each chapter is a snapshot of a specific character in a specific time of the story line.  The twins are not the central characters to this story, rather the twins and those around them (the man that sired them, their mother, and the circumstances surrounding their birth) are all put together to create a sort of ambiance of a story rather than a clear, straight-forward tail.

But that’s not a bad thing and I think that, if some other ingredients had just been tweaked a bit in the book, the result would have been really enjoyable.  What I really struggled with was trying to figure out what all was supposed to be the story.  There was historical events, but just a slight touch of them.  There were interesting characters, but the end of the book left me wondering what their purpose had been.  Was Stillwater supposed to be a story about people or is a snapshot picture of a particular time period in a particular towns life?  These are the questions I was asking myself when I finished the book and why I ended up unsatisfied.

Don’t get me wrong.  There were really enjoyable moments in the book, moments that I found myself not wanting to put it down, and the writing was beautiful in many, many places.  But when it comes down to it, I enjoy a sense of closure in my novels – even if that closure leaves the characters in a place where I can picture an ending for them.  Instead, with Stillwater, I put the book down wondering… what was the purpose of this book?

Did you read or review Stillwater? Let me know what you thought or leave a link to your review in the comments.

Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten Reasons I Love Being a Book Blogger


Top Ten Tuesday is a fantastic meme hosted and created by The Broke and the Bookish.

Folks, I’ve fallen behind.  It’s really not intentional…but with thirty piano students, a spring recital to prepare for, a benefit concert I am playing piano for, and a 1 month old and 16 month old in the house to help care for… you can imagine things have gotten busy.  What’s sad is that the thing I love doing most… talking about books/reading books has suffered as a result.

I’m trying harder though – but sometimes I am just so tired that the prospect of sitting down to write a blog post overwhelms me.  Especially when I have to choose – read or write.  But today, this Top Ten Tuesday could not come at a more ideal time because I want to talk about why I love blogging about books and why I will continue to try to carve time out of my busy schedule to continue to do it.

1. Blogging about books makes me think

Of course, I’m talking about thinking about the book I just read.  Writing down my thoughts in some sort of coherent way helps me solidify what I’ve just read – something I desperately need since I am able to read so quickly and jump from book to book.  But it also helps me think about other things.  Now I think about who I’d recommend the book to, what other books the one I just read is like, and I want to learn what others thoughts were because chances are, at least one other blogger that I stumble across will make me completely view the book I’ve read in a way I would have never thought of.  And I usually only look up 2-3 blogs after I have finished (see: time note above).

2. The people I’ve met

From other bloggers, to authors, to publicists and publishing executives – my connections span so far around the world.  And I love every single connection I’ve made.

3.  I love to talk books

Now that I’m not in school it’s difficult to find a room filled with people who have read the same thing that I have – so what better medium than a book blog?  Here I can ramble to my hearts desire.

4.  I am kept connected

Book blogging ensures that I am watching lists and twitter and Facebook and other blogs and seeing new titles that are coming out before they are released. Just recently I was on a 6,000 mile journey (one way) to go back to Illinois and then two weeks later I turned around to come back to Hawai’i.  I loved walking past the bookstores in the airport and recognizing every title on the shelves facing out, enticing people to buy them.  Not only did I know the titles, I’d read most of them so my wallet was thankfully spared much pain.

5. It makes an extrovert out of this introvert

For some reason I have a really, really hard time striking up a conversation with anyone, even if they sit down next to me and say hello.  But I have absolutely no problem stopping by a stranger on the way down an airplane aisle to my seat to tell that stranger that the book he is holding is a great one. (Jess Walters – We Live in Water)

6. The Books

Of course I love that my addiction is fed without much pain being inflicted on my wallet.  I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy the free books that come with book blogging.  Buwt they aren’t essential to my happiness because before I began receiving the free books I was checking them out at the library.  I still check them out – but now I don’t take home stacks of 20 books at a time. =)

7. The Smarts

I’m not the bragging sort, really, but I would be stupid to say that reading has not improved my intellect.  I really struggled in school in my early twenties and for years, all I read were mysteries and romance novels (and even then, just by the same few authors).  I’d read a classic now and then (more so as an early teenager when I was forbidden romances and mysteries), but mostly I stuck to a specific type.  Once I started branching out, I noticed the my opinions and thoughts began to take shape and I no longer felt lost in conversation with some really smart people I know.  School enhanced that and I left feeling confident and sure of myself – something that took way too long to happen in my opinion.

8. Awareness

I made a decision to diversify my reading even more this year.  I grew up in a midwestern, middle-to-lower class white home.  I know I had a privileged childhood.  I had food, clothing, friends, education – heck, my folks spent so much on my piano lessons when I was growing up that it boggles my mind.  But never have I been more aware of that privilege then I am today.  I never want to forget it and in order to keep reminding myself I need to keep reading and learning more about those who do not have that sort of privilege.  Reading helps me remember that I need to use where I am to make the world a better place for those who don’t have the same opportunities.  I never want to take mine for granted again.

9. Gift-Giving

I love giving gifts.  With the broadening of my reading choices I’ve learned ways to find the perfect book to match the people in my life (and those who come into my life).  It gives me joy to be able to help by putting a book from my shelves into the hands of someone who needs it.

10. You

Every week that I post one of these Top Ten Tuesdays I get people on the blog who I have never spoken to before.  I am insanely grateful any time I get a comment  from someone because I know it means they took time to not only read what I wrote, but cared enough to engage with me. I saved this one for last because I wanted to thank you all for taking the time to read to this part of the post and to say that I would love to see you around, often or sporadically, whatever works for you!

What do you love about blogging or reading or both?




Book Review: After I’m Gone by Laura Lippman

Book Review: After I’m Gone by Laura LippmanAfter I'm Gone by Laura Lippman
Published by HarperCollins on 2014-02-11
Genres: Fiction, General, Mystery & Detective, Suspense, Thrillers
Pages: 352
Format: eARC
Source: HarperCollins
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The acclaimed New York Times bestselling author of The Most Dangerous Thing, I'd Know You Anywhere, and What the Dead Know returns with an addictive story that explores how one man's disappearance echoes through the lives of the five women he left behind—his wife, his daughters, and his mistressDead is dead. Missing is gone.When Felix Brewer meets nineteen-year-old Bernadette

I received this book for free from HarperCollins in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

I also recommend:

My Review:

I’ve heard many good things about the author Laura Lippman, so when I saw she had a new book coming out I thought I’d give it a shot.  After I’m Gone proved to be a slow read that paid off in the end…but boy it took its time getting there.  Lippman sets up a story by alternating past with present and it’s imperative that you keep the two storylines close in your head or, as I found out about halfway through as I took my time with the story, it’s possible to get them all jumbled up.

So why did I take my time?  Well, in spite of being interesting and my desire to find out “who done it,” there was simply no real pull in the story for me.  I never felt like I absolutely needed to know right now.  Instead, it was more of a calm reading for me – and that is not usually me with crime novels.  I picked up After I’m Gone thinking it would be a quick read (I normally read books in this genre in a single evening) and instead spent 4 days agonizing on whether or not I wanted to pick it up to continue the story again.  What I think it came down to is… I simply wasn’t interested in the back story.  I didn’t want to live the past through the eyes of the players, I wanted to hear about the past from the viewpoints of those in the now.

So while I can understand the fascination with Lippman’s writing, especially if you are really into the flashback style, it just wasn’t working well for me.  With all that said, I will say that the ending of After I’m Gone completely threw me for a loop.  I had just about come to the conclusion that things would end as I had grown to expect they would but by the time the final pages happened I was completely flabbergasted.  And that made the book for me (and it’s why I’m not giving it a measly 1-2 stars).  It paid off in the end and, really, if the end is worth it, then I’ll probably check out Lippman’s books in the future as well.

Check out these reviews!

  • “If you’re looking for a thoughtful, contemplative read that still manages to move at a quick pace and be suspenseful, you should absolutely pick up After I’m Gone. ” – S. Krishna’s Books
  • “Lippman has skillfully woven an intriguing web that will have you burning the midnight oil to find out what happened. ” – Book-alicious Mama
  • “This one has lots of interesting layers, and that’s what kept me glued to the book.” Reading Reality