Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Review: The Girl in the Castle by Santa Montefiore

If you're anything like me, you thrill to the idea of big family sagas. The current publishing trend of trilogies doesn't hurt either. When the two come together--a trilogy with an involved family saga winding through it--it's the best of both worlds for sure. Santa Montefiore's newest novel released here in the US, The Girl in the Castle, is a meaty delight of an Irish saga and the first in the Deverill Chronicles trilogy.

When the novel opens in 1910, Kitty Deverill is only just nine years old. She is a smart and mischievous child much beloved by her grandmother, Lady Deverill. And like her grandmother, she has the gift of being able to see ghosts. The Deverills are Anglo-Irish and the story goes that when the O'Learys were removed from the land by the first Lord Deverill, the Deverill family was cursed by the witch Maggie O'Leary so that until an O'Leary inhabits the land once again, all Deverill heirs are doomed to stay in the castle as ghosts, lending a very slight paranormal feel to the novel. Kitty's mother dislikes her and her father is often indifferent to her existence, busy with his own desires. Much younger than her older sisters and older brother, her best friends are two local Irish Catholic children, Bridie, the daughter of the castle's cook, and Jack, the son of the local vet and an O'Leary. As the three friends grow up, much of their world changes, both because of the times and because of their stations in life.

Kitty and Jack find themselves falling in love despite their differences. Although she is Anglo-Irish, Kitty feels nothing for England, declaring herself nothing but Irish and when IRA grows stronger, she finds a way to assist the struggle for Home Rule, not just for Jack's sake but because she feels that Irish Independence is right and necessary. But the War for Independence is not the only war rending the world apart as Kitty grows to adulthood. So is WWI. Smaller hostilities and other happenings closer to Co. Cork also alter the course of the lives of the Deverill family and those connected to them. The novel definitely ends with more story to come as Kitty, Jack, Bridie, and Kitty's cousin Celia have all stepped into very different adult lives than they once envisioned. More twists and turns surely await.

The story line here is incredibly engaging and the weaving of the personal and the political is very well done. Most of the story follows Kitty and her decisions but Bridie's life is also fairly well represented; Jack's comes mainly through the other characters' observations and often only in relation to Kitty or Bridie rather than as his own story. The secondary characters are generally well rounded, some infuriating, some conniving, some hilarious, and some heartwarming but all distinct and human. Montefiore has done a beautiful job describing Ireland and its hold on the main characters and their hearts. Setting the novel when she has, has allowed her to encapsulate much of important twentieth century Irish history without taking away from the intimate feel of one family's ups and downs. The action is driven both by individual decisions and by the world beyond their doorstep. Using a framing device to keep the mystery of who has bought the ruins that were once Castle Deverill is well done and remains a surprise right up until the reveal. It will be interesting to see which direction the second novel takes given that revelation and the other major unresolved plot points left in the end. The second in the trilogy is already out in the UK if you have patience issues.

For more information about Santa Montefiore and the book, check out her website, like her Facebook page, or follow her on Twitter. Also, check out the book's Good Reads page, follow the rest of the blog tour, or look at the amazon reviews for others' thoughts and opinions on the book.

Thanks to Trish from TLC Book Tours and HarperCollins for sending me a copy of this book to review.

Waiting on Wednesday

This meme is hosted by Breaking the Spine and is meant to highlight some great pre-publication books we all can't wait to get our grubby little mitts on.

Today Will Be Different by Maria Semple. The book is being released by Little, Brown and Company on October 4, 2016.

Amazon says this about the book: A brilliant novel from the author of Where'd You Go, Bernadette, about a day in the life of Eleanor Flood, forced to abandon her small ambitions and awake to a strange, new future.

Eleanor knows she's a mess. But today, she will tackle the little things. She will shower and get dressed. She will have her poetry and yoga lessons after dropping off her son, Timby. She won't swear. She will initiate sex with her husband, Joe. But before she can put her modest plan into action-life happens. Today, it turns out, is the day Timby has decided to fake sick to weasel his way into his mother's company. It's also the day Joe has chosen to tell his office-but not Eleanor-that he's on vacation. Just when it seems like things can't go more awry, an encounter with a former colleague produces a graphic memoir whose dramatic tale threatens to reveal a buried family secret.

TODAY WILL BE DIFFERENT is a hilarious, heart-filled story about reinvention, sisterhood, and how sometimes it takes facing up to our former selves to truly begin living.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Monday Mailbox

Another couple of good looking books this go round. This past several week's mailbox arrivals:

Just Fine With Caroline by Annie England Noblin came from William Morrow and TLC Book Tours for a blog tour.

Light books that contain loved pets: how can you go wrong with a tale like this one about a woman who has returned to her gossipy small town to help care for her mother, who has Alzheimer's, and finds all of the kooky characters she thought she'd left in the past?

The Boy Is Back by Meg Cabot came from William Morrow and TLC Book Tours for a blog tour.

How can you not like the idea of a guy coming home to his small town after a scandal and facing his first love? That it inverts the usual romance trope of woman returning is definitely intriguing to me.

If you want to see the marvelous goodies in other people's mailboxes, make sure to visit Mailbox Monday and have fun seeing how we are all doing our part to keep the USPS and delivery services viable.

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

A couple of weeks combined here. This meme is hosted by Kathryn at Reading Date.

Books I completed this past week are:

Marrow by Elizabeth Lesser
Dear Reader by Paul Fournel
Hotel Angeline by 36 authors
The Girl Who Fought Napoleon by Linda Lafferty
A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara
Me Before You by Jojo Moyes

Bookmarks are still living in the middle of:

You Have Never Been Here by Mary Rickert
West With the Night by Beryl Markham
A Well-Made Bed by Abby Frucht and Laurie Alberts
Riverine by Angela Palm
The Other Woman by Therese Bohman
The Children's Crusade by Ann Packer
Luckiest Girl Alive by Jessica Knoll
The Lake House by Kate Morton
Exposure by Helen Dunmore
I Will Find You by Joanna Connors
The Veins of the Ocean by Patricia Engel
Eliza Waite by Ashley E. Sweeney
Shelter by Jung Yun
The Center of the World by Jacqueline Sheehan
The Edge of Lost by Kristina McMorris
A Manual For Cleaning Women by Lucia Berlin
The Last Time She Saw Him by Jane Haseldine
The Beauty of the End by Debbie Howells
I Hid My Voice by Parinoush Saniee
Country of Red Azaleas by Domnica Radulescu
A Different Kind of Daughter by Maria Toorpakai
A Hard and Heavy Thing by Matthew J. Hefti

Reviews posted this week:

Commonwealth by Ann Patchett
Marrow by Elizabeth Lesser
The Girl Who Fought Napoleon by Linda Lafferty

Books still needing to have reviews written (as opposed to the ones that are simply awaiting posting):

My Confection by Lisa Kotin
Put a Ring on It by Beth Kendrick
One Perfect Summer by Paige Toon
The Things We Keep by Sally Hepworth
The Sisters of Versailles by Sally Christie The Private Papers of Eastern Jewel by Maureen Lindley
Be Frank With Me by Julia Claiborne Johnson
American Housewife by Helen Ellis
The Two-Family House by Lynda Cohen Loigman
The Husband's Secret by Liane Moriarty
Margaret the First by Danielle Dutton
Closer All the Time by Jim Nichols
The Versions of Us by Laura Barnett
Over the Plain Houses by Julia Franks
The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah
Forsaken by Ross Howell Jr.
The Cosmopolitans by Sarah Schulman
The Spice Box Letters by Eve Makis
Britt-Marie Was Here by Fredrik Backman
A Very Special Year by Thomas Montasser
Specimen by Irina Kovalyova
One True Loves by Taylor Jenkins Reid
The Telling by Zoe Zolbrod
The Transmigration of Bodies by Yuri Herrera
The Boy Who Speaks in Numbers by Mike Masilamani
Everyone Brave Is Forgiven by Chris Cleave
Every Exquisite Thing by Matthew Quick
What Comes Next and How to Like It by Abigail Thomas
After the Dam by Amy Hassinger
Our Spoons Came From Woolworths by Barbara Comyns
Umami by Laia Jufresa
The Education of a Poker Player by James McManus
Girl in the Blue Coat by Monica Hesse
Mrs. Engels by Gavin McCrea
The Iceberg by Marion Coutts
Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
Remarkable by Dinah Cox
Miss Jane by Brad Watson
The Inland Sea by Donald Ritchie
The Unseen World by Liz Moore
The Silver Spoon by Kansuke Naka
Blackass by A. Igoni Barrett
The Gilded Life of Matilda Duplaine by Alex Brunkhorst
The Honeymoon by Dinitia Smith
The Last Weynfeldt by Martin Suter
The Grand Hotel by Vicki Baum
Bottomland by Michelle Hoover
This Is Your Life, Harriet Chance by Jonathan Evison
The Lake by Perrine Leblanc
Orhan's Inheritance by Aline Ohanesian
A Girl From Yamhill by Beverly Cleary
If You Left by Ashley Norton
The Heart You Carry Home by Jennifer Miller
And Again by Jessica Chiarella
Man by Kim Thuy
The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George
The One-in-a-Million Boy by Monica Wood
The Japanese Lover by Isabel Allende
The Wonder Garden by Lauren Acampora
A Good American by Alex George
Bertrand Court by Michelle Brafman
When Women Were Birds by Terry Tempest Williams
The Winter War by Philip Teir
This Side of Providence by Sally M. Harper
Lost and Found by Brooke Davis
Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by J.K. Rowling
Course Correction by Ginny Gilder
Charmed Particles by Chrissy Kolaya
300 Days of Sun by Deborah Lawrenson
The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller
The American Way of Eating by Tracie McMillan
The Tsar of Love of Techno by Anthony Marra
The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper by Phaedra Patrick
The Book of Harlan by Bernice L. McFadden
Hey Harry, Hey Matilda by Rachel Hulin
The Measure of Darkness by Liam Durcan
Finding Fraser by KC Dyer
A Mother's Reckoning by Sue Klebold
The Drone Eats With Me by Atef Abu Saif
Heat and Light by Jennifer Haigh
Moo by Sharon Creech
Dear Reader by Paul Fournel
Hotel Angeline by 36 authors
A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara
Me Before You by Jojo Moyes

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Review: The Girl Who Fought Napoleon by Linda Lafferty

I have long been fascinated with Russia. I took two years of Russian in high school (which, so many years later, leaves me capable of the names of a couple of animals, fruits, please, thank-you, "My name is...," and the like). I took a "Russian-Soviet Life" class in high school and a "Russia to 1900" class in college. I have read many of the Russian greats and a few of the banned Soviets as well. So this novel of the Russian Empire, set in the waning years of Catherine the Great, her son Paul I, and grandson Alexander I's rules, was something I knew would sustain my interest. Finding out that the premise of a girl who fled her home and joined the Russian cavalry to fight Napoleon was based on a true story made it all that much more appealing.

Nadezhda Durova is born to a Russian army officer and his Ukrainian wife. A disappointment to her mother, she grows up wild and indulged while her family follows the drum. When he father finally retires, she is suddenly faced with her mother's strictures and ideas of how a proper lady comports herself. Chafing under this contained life, Nadezhda runs away in the middle of the night on her magnificent steed, Alcides. Dressed as a Cossack, she conspires to join the army in the guise of a young boy named Aleksandr. Throughout the years, she serves with honor and bravery, eventually taking part in the horrific Patriotic War of 1812 against Napoleon. As Nadezhda grows up and joins the army, the young Grand Duke Alexander is also growing up in St. Petersburg in his grandmother Catherine the Great's household. He is groomed to become Tsar, witness to and victim of the great animosity between his father and his grandmother. Political machinations mold and form his adolescence and young adulthood as he is thrust into a position he never desired. Nadezhda escapes the life that society would impress on her but the Tsar cannot so easily run away from his responsibilities.

The novel is told from Nadezhda's first person perspective and third person limited from Alexander I's with a few short bits focused on Napoleon. Generally the shifts occur from chapter to chapter but occasionally, and slightly confusingly, they happen within a chapter as well. The narrative is not a straight chronology either, at least in the beginning when the reader needs to pay close attention to the date headings on the chapters to figure out where in history the story is, as well as which character is dominating the story line. Although the two major story lines start off quite far apart, they do eventually cross over each other in a somewhat surprising way. Despite their intersection, they still generally felt like two different novels rather than a completely integrated whole. The Russian history was well researched and seeing Alexander I's struggles with his position, his guilt over his father's death, and his almost platonic relationship with his own wife was interesting indeed. Nadezhda's story, unknown as it seems to be here in the West, was even more interesting. Her rebellion against society and the narrow life that she could expect to lead as a woman was completely understandable and her accounts of war and the suffering of the troops was brutal. The story was generally engaging with one exception: the unexpected revelation at the end of the novel comes out of the blue and although it apparently follows the very late revelation in the real Nadezhda Durova's memoir, it is confusing and disruptive for the reader. Aside from that though, anyone interested in the life of a woman who fashions herself as she wants to be or in the years of the Romanov dynasty that this encompasses will certainly enjoy this expansive novel.

For more information about Linda Lafferty and the book, follow her on Twitter. Also, check out the book's Good Reads page, follow the rest of the blog tour, or look at the amazon reviews for others' thoughts and opinions on the book.

Thanks to Lisa from TLC Book Tours and the publisher for sending me a copy of this book to review.

Waiting on Wednesday

This meme is hosted by Breaking the Spine and is meant to highlight some great pre-publication books we all can't wait to get our grubby little mitts on.

A Life Everlasting by Sarah Gray. The book is being released by HarperOne on September 27, 2016.

Amazon says this about the book: A donor mother’s powerful memoir of grief and rebirth that is also a fascinating medical science whodunit, taking us inside the world of organ, eye, tissue, and blood donation and cutting-edge scientific research.

When Sarah Gray received the devastating news that her unborn son Thomas was diagnosed with anencephaly, a terminal condition, she decided she wanted his death—and life—to have meaning. In the weeks before she gave birth to her twin sons in 2010, she arranged to donate Thomas’s organs. Due to his low birth weight, they would go to research rather than transplant. As transplant donors have the opportunity to meet recipients, Sarah wanted to know how Thomas's donation would be used.

That curiosity fueled a scientific odyssey that leads Sarah to some of the most prestigious scientific facilities in the country, including Harvard, Duke, and the University of Pennsylvania. Pulling back the curtain of protocol and confidentiality, she introduces the researchers who received Thomas’s donations, held his liver in their hands, studied his cells under the microscope.

Sarah’s journey to find solace and understanding takes her beyond her son’s donations—offering a breathtaking overview of the world of medical research and the valiant scientists on the horizon of discovery. She goes behind the scenes at organ procurement organizations, introducing skilled technicians for whom death means saving lives, empathetic counselors, and the brilliant minds who are finding surprising and inventive ways to treat and cure disease through these donations. She also shares the moving stories of other donor families.

A Life Everlasting is an unforgettable testament to hope, a tribute to life and discovery, and a portrait of unsung heroes pushing the boundaries of medical science for the benefit of all humanity.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Review: Marrow by Elizabeth Lesser

Sisters are special people. They share your history. They are part of good memories and bad. You share both love and strife, oftentimes dating back years and years. I can't even begin to imagine what it would feel like to be told that not only does your sister have cancer but that without a bone marrow transplant, she will die, and soon. But that is the devastating news Liz Lesser got from her sister Maggie and which she chronicles in her new memoir, Marrow: A Love Story.

Liz and Maggie hadn't always had an easy relationship but Liz was as devastated as anyone when the lymphoma that they all thought Maggie had beaten seven years earlier reoccurred. And with the aggressive recurrence, Maggie's only hope was a bone marrow transplant. Each of the three Lesser sisters was tested but it was Liz who was the perfect match. So began the journey of the sisters, a journey through cancer and its treatment but also a journey through love and soul searching, a journey to reconnect as sisters, and a journey to live life fully and intentionally. This memoir, although inspired by Maggie, is more of an examination of Liz's inner life and emotions. It is a combination memoir of both the reality of terminal illness and self-help with a lean towards mysticism. Once Maggie agrees to try the transplant, she and Liz look at healing their years of misunderstandings and resentments in preparation for the transplant, hoping that coming to a forgiving and healing place together emotionally, sharing acceptance and forgiveness, will allow the harvested stem cells to thrive in Maggie.

Lesser examines her own journey, her role in Maggie's life, and discusses ways in which to get to the marrow of life and love, weaving all of these together within the same chapters. There are some brief "field notes" of Maggie's from her journal but they are fairly infrequent. And really, the focus here is more Liz than Maggie. It is more about how she viewed her sister and their lifelong relationship than it was about losing this sister she came to understand and respect so much. This made the memoir less emotional than it might otherwise have been given the subject matter. The pieces about Maggie and about Lesser's growing up years were engaging and something to look forward to. The self-help portions were definitely less so for me and dwarfed the life and relationship the book was celebrating. Lesser's spiritual beliefs are evident here but by framing the narrative the way she does, the depth of emotional impact is minimized and depersonalized. The reader needed more of Maggie and what made her who she was, a sister Liz loved and upended her life for, a mother, a wife, a nurse, an artist, an actively dying person who could say that the year after her bone marrow transplant was the best year of her life, and so much more. It would be hard to write a memoir about losing a sister without it being about love and grief and this definitely has that but it also has life, Liz's life and the ways in which making the journey with Maggie changed her forever. Those who don't mind a rather large helping of self-help with their memoirs will really enjoy this a lot.

For more information about Elizabeth Lesser and the book, check out her web page or like her Facebook page. Also, check out the book's Good Reads page or look at the amazon reviews for others' thoughts and opinions on the book.

Thanks to Trish from TLC Book Tours and Harper Collins for sending me a copy of this book to review.

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