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Friday, April 29, 2016

Review: The Things We Keep by Sally Hepworth

Title: The Things We Keep
Author: Sally Hepworth
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Publish Date: January 19, 2016
Source: Library

What's the Story?:

From "Anna Forster, in the early stages of Alzheimer's disease at only thirty-eight years old, knows that her family is doing what they believe to be best when they take her to Rosalind House, an assisted living facility. She also knows there's just one other resident her age, Luke. What she does not expect is the love that blossoms between her and Luke even as she resists her new life at Rosalind House. As her disease steals more and more of her memory, Anna fights to hold on to what she knows, including her relationship with Luke.

When Eve Bennett is suddenly thrust into the role of single mother she finds herself putting her culinary training to use at Rosalind house. When she meets Anna and Luke she is moved by the bond the pair has forged. But when a tragic incident leads Anna's and Luke's families to separate them, Eve finds herself questioning what she is willing to risk to help them."

My Two Cents:

In "The Things We Keep," Anna is losing her mind to early onset Alzheimer's and Luke is losing his ability to speak and form words. Both of them are in their thirties and suddenly find themselves living with the octogenarians and nonagenarians in a nursing home. They are frustrated with what is happening to them. They are frustrated with having to be in a facility geared for much older people. They fall for each other but the rules of the facility are meant to keep them away.

The characters in this book are wonderful. The book is told from the perspectives of Anna and Eve, a woman who is trying to fix her own life and the life of her young daughter after Eve's husband kills himself after being caught in a Ponzi scheme. Both of the characters are fantastic. The author does a really good job of showing the progression of Anna's illness and how it changes her and how she is able to communicate. Eve's story is sad as well but in a very different. I thought it was so interesting how she let Anna and Luke be together as if to bring happiness to others when she was having such a difficult time bringing happiness to herself.

This was a really powerful book that made me think a lot. What would I do if I were in Anna's place? How would I feel? The feelings of helplessness were so clearly drawn in the book that it gripped me viscerally. This is definitely a book that will stick with me long after I read the last page.


Thursday, April 28, 2016

Review: The Art of Asking; or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Let People Help by Amanda Palmer

Title: The Art of Asking; or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Let People Help
Author: Amanda Palmer
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
Publish Date: November 11, 2014
Source: Library

What's the Story?:

From "Rock star, crowdfunding pioneer, and TED speaker Amanda Palmer knows all about asking. Performing as a living statue in a wedding dress, she wordlessly asked thousands of passersby for their dollars. When she became a singer, songwriter, and musician, she was not afraid to ask her audience to support her as she surfed the crowd (and slept on their couches while touring). And when she left her record label to strike out on her own, she asked her fans to support her in making an album, leading to the world's most successful music Kickstarter.

Even while Amanda is both celebrated and attacked for her fearlessness in asking for help, she finds that there are important things she cannot ask for-as a musician, as a friend, and as a wife. She learns that she isn't alone in this, that so many people are afraid to ask for help, and it paralyzes their lives and relationships. In this groundbreaking book, she explores these barriers in her own life and in the lives of those around her, and discovers the emotional, philosophical, and practical aspects of THE ART OF ASKING.

Part manifesto, part revelation, this is the story of an artist struggling with the new rules of exchange in the twenty-first century, both on and off the Internet. THE ART OF ASKING will inspire readers to rethink their own ideas about asking, giving, art, and love."

My Two Cents:

"The Art of Asking" is a book by Amanda Palmer, artist, singer of the Dresden Dolls, and wife of Neil Gaiman. I was only vaguely familiar with her through her singing career but I am so glad that I picked up this book. This book is part memoir, part self-help book of sorts. Palmer talks about her career and how even those that seem really successful may need help sometimes and how that help shouldn't be seen as shameful.

This was a cathartic read for me. I know that no one is expected to do everything on their own but there is something about me that makes it really hard to ask for help even when I know that I need that. I don't think that I'm alone at all in that. Almost all of us don't want to feel vulnerable. We don't want to feel like we can't make it on our own. We feel like we want to be free and independent and we feel that the only way to do that is to simply do everything on our own, even when things seem impossible, even when it would make more sense for someone else to step in. Palmer talks about all of those things in such a real, raw way. She also shows how important it is to say when you need help, to show that vulnerable-ness. It really resonated with me!

I really liked Palmer's style in this book. You feel like she's talking to you as a friend. She's allowing herself to show her true colors. It's this candor that pulled me in and didn't let go until the last page. This would be a great pick for those that are struggling with the same sorts of things.


Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Blog Tour Giveaway: The Ones Who Matter Most

Want to win a copy of The Ones Who Matter Most? Just fill out the Rafflecopter form below (U.S. only, please).

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Monday, April 25, 2016

Blog Tour Post: The Ones Who Matter Most by Rachael Herron

Title: The Ones Who Matter Most
Author: Rachael Herron
Format: Ebook
Publisher: NAL
Publish Date: April 5, 2016
Source: Publisher

What's the Story?:

From "After her husband dies unexpectedly, Abby Roberts comes across something startling: wedding photographs of him with another woman, along with pictures of a baby boy. Shocked, Abby does something utterly impulsive: She embarks on a journey to discover the family her husband apparently left behind.

Money has always been tight for single mom Fern Reyes, and never tighter than now. But this month, in place of a child-support check, her ex's pretty, privileged wife appears on her doorstep with far too many questions. Unfortunately, her young son is so taken with Abby that Fern doesn’t have the heart to send her away.

What begins as one woman’s search for truth becomes a deep bond forged between the unlikeliest of people, and the discovery that there are many ways to make a family—as long as you take care..."

My Two Cents:

"The Ones Who Matter Most" is the story of Abby who wants freedom from her husband. When he dies suddenly, Abby realizes how much she didn't know about him and how much he had hidden. He had an entire family that Abby knew nothing about. Fern and Matias were abandoned and have always been jealous of the other woman: Abby. When Abby forcible inserts herself into their lives, they are shaken. This is a story of family and secrets. Sometimes family is not the ones we are born with but the ones we make.

Those in this book are put into some unthinkable circumstances. I loved both of the women main characters in this book: Abby and Fern. They are both very different. Abby is sort of a shrinking violet who doesn't have a lot of confidence. Fern is incredibly strong. These women will create a lot of friction between them. I loved how we see them change throughout the book. It was so interesting to see them go from butting heads to finding peace.

I was so intrigued by the story of these two families. The author does a really good job of giving us a lot of good detail about the characters without an information dump. I loved getting to know these characters. They will definitely stick with me for a really long time! I got so sucked into their story and could not wait to see how it all ended!


Friday, April 22, 2016

TLC Book Tours: The Rivals of Versailles by Sally Christie

Title: The Rivals of Versailles
Author: Sally Christie
Format: ARC
Publisher: Atria Books
Publish Date: April 5, 2016

What's the Story?:

From "The year is 1745. Marie-Anne, the youngest of the infamous Nesle sisters and King Louis XV's most beloved mistress, is gone, making room for the next Royal Favorite.

Enter Jeanne-Antoinette Poisson, a stunningly beautiful girl from the middle classes. Fifteen years prior, a fortune teller had mapped out young Jeanne's destiny: she would become the lover of a king and the most powerful woman in the land. Eventually connections, luck, and a little scheming pave her way to Versailles and into the King's arms.

All too soon, conniving politicians and hopeful beauties seek to replace the bourgeois interloper with a more suitable mistress. As Jeanne, now the Marquise de Pompadour, takes on her many rivals - including a lustful lady-in-waiting; a precocious fourteen-year-old prostitute, and even a cousin of the notorious Nesle sisters - she helps the king give himself over to a life of luxury and depravity. Around them, war rages, discontent grows, and France inches ever closer to the Revolution.

Enigmatic beauty, social climber, actress, trendsetter, patron of the arts, spendthrift, whoremonger, friend, lover, foe. History books may say many things about the famous Marquise de Pompadour, but one thing is clear: for almost twenty years, she ruled France and the King's heart."

My Two Cents:

"The Rivals of Versailles" is the second book in Sally Christie's The Mistress of Versailles series. In this book, we meet Jeanne Poisson who will become yet another mistress for France's King Louis XV. Stunningly beautiful, Jeanne, called Reinette, throughout the book is told from a young age that she will become the King's mistress. Rising to fame as the Marquise de Pompadour, Jeanne is a force to be reckoned with. Others we are introduced to throughout the book will try to unseat her but there's a good reason she is still so well-remembered throughout history.

This book works nicely as a standalone as the book really focuses on a new set of characters. There is Reinette as well as Rosalie de Romanet-Choiseul, Morphise, and Marie-Anne de Mailly de Coislin. Most of the narrative belongs to Reinette but we do get a chance to hear from each of these other women in the latter half of the book. They definitely have much smaller sections so we don't get to know them quite as well as we get to know Reinette, which was just fine with me - she is fascinating! I really liked how the author chose to divide up the narratives - it was almost as if she was leading the reader to pay the most attention to Reinette while relegating the other women to mere dalliances for the King. 

I liked this book much better than the first book. Reinette is such a great character. The author makes her feel very accessible. It was so interesting to see how she is able to captivate the King and keep his attention for so long. Her narrative is from her point of view, which made me feel even closer to her! 

Thursday, April 21, 2016

HFVBT Author Guest Post: Mary Sharratt

I am so pleased to have Mary Sharratt here to A Bookish Affair today!

Adventures in Historical Crossdressing

When I go on book tour, I don period costume to get into the spirit of my historical heroines.

But this time around, when I take my new book, The Dark Lady’s Mask, on the road, I’m ditching the corset and skirts for breeches and a doublet. Like Shakespeare’s heroine Rosalind in As You Like It, I, too, have discovered the joys of Elizabethan crossdressing.  

Women in breeches are a hallmark of Shakespeare’s comedies. Viola in Twelfth Night gets herself in a conundrum of sexual confusion when she masquerades as a man. She’s secretly smitten with Orsino, who sends her to court his beloved Olivia for him. But Olivia becomes hopelessly infatuated with Viola. Meanwhile in The Merchant of Venice, clever Portia impersonates a male lawyer and so saves Antonio’s life. But no other character in any of Shakespeare’s plays has as much fun as Rosalind as she romps through the Forest of Arden in male guise, helpfully instructing her beloved Orlando on how he should best woo the fair Rosalind.

Shakespeare’s first cross-dressing heroine was Julia in Two Gentlemen of Verona. Desperate to follow her lover Proteus to Milan, Julia elects to go after him, but dressed as a page boy to prevent any “loose encounters with lascivious men.” In conversation with her maid, Lucetta, Julia confesses that she feels somewhat squeamish about wearing a codpiece, that most essential masculine fashion accessory.    

LUCETTA: What fashion, madam shall I make your breeches?

JULIA: That fits as well as 'Tell me, good my lord,
What compass will you wear your farthingale?'
Why even what fashion thou best likest, Lucetta.

LUCETTA: You must needs have them with a codpiece, madam.

JULIA: Out, out, Lucetta! that would be ill-favour'd.

But given the choice between wearing the codpiece or staying home, Julia embraces her male disguise.

Shakespeare’s crossdressing heroines can feel so refreshingly modern to us today, so spirited and free in their quest for independence and true love rather than social convention and arranged marriage. Never mind that the plays inevitably end with these young women returning to their sanctioned feminine roles.

In Early Modern Europe, with its rigidly delineated gendered spheres, female crossdressing opened the door to all manner of comic and dramatic possibility, such as Rosalind’s merry lampooning of stereotypical feminine and masculine mannerisms. As Rosalind struggles to mask her own love for Orlando while fighting off the advances of an amorous shepherdess, we are plunged into a comedy of errors that blurs and subverts the notion of gender itself, even as it entertains us. Warm, witty, wise, and yet vulnerable, Rosalind is the perfect rom com heroine.

Crossdressing women were a comedy staple across Europe. In his 1615 comedy Don Gil of the Green Breeches, Spanish playwright Tirso de Molina takes his crossdressing heroine, Donna Juana, even further than Shakespeare did with RosalindDonna Juana constantly switches gender identities while chasing her absconding lover across Spain. Ole!

In Spain and Italy, women would have played the part of Donna Juana on stage. But in England, by rule of law, all female roles were performed by men and boys. Male actors impersonating women impersonating men took this crossdressing role reversal to a whole new level. The theater itself was a magical place of suspended reality where all social codes could be rewritten—at least for the duration of the play.

Offstage crossdressing was a serious crime. Any real life women emulating Rosalind or Viola faced draconian punishments. In 1575 the London Aldermen’s Court found one Dorothy Clayton, spinster, guilty of going about the city “apparelled in man’s attire” and sentenced her to stand two hours at the pillory in her men’s clothing before locking her up in Bridewell Prison until further order. In 1569 Johanna Goodman was whipped and imprisoned for the crime of disguising herself as a man in order to accompany her soldier-husband to war.   

Perhaps the most extraordinary of all the crossdressing heroines in Early Modern English drama was Moll Cutpurse in Thomas Middleton and Thomas Dekker’s comedy, The Roaring Girl. This play is so remarkable because it’s based on the life of a real woman, Mary Frith, who merrily crossdressed her entire life, no matter how many times she was whipped and locked up for it.  

A shoemaker’s daughter born in 1584, Moll bobbed her hair, sported baggy trousers and a doublet, and smoked tobacco in a long clay pipe. She swore whenever she felt like it. When her paternal uncle, a minister, attempted to reform her by packing her off to New England, our incorrigible hoyden jumped ship and swam to shore. She got by on thieving—hence her “Cutpurse” moniker—earning enough to keep three maidservants, as well as parrots and mastiffs. She hung mirrors in every room of her home to admire herself in her masculine finery. Once, to win a £20 bet, she galloped on horseback all the way from Charing Cross to Shoreditch while flying a banner and blowing a trumpet. She even appeared on stage at the Fortune Theater in 1611, in complete defiance to the law. Moll was the ultimate transgressive woman of her age and a fixture in the criminal underworld.

Yet amazingly, The Roaring Girl portrays her in a very positive light as a sort of female Robin Hood who steals to redress social injustice. Unlike Shakespeare’s heroines, she isn’t married off in the end either. When asked when she will marry, Moll replies:

. . . I’ll tell you when i’faith:
When you shall hear
Gallants void from sergeants’ fear,
Honesty and truth unslandered,
Woman manned but never pandered,
Cheators booted but not coached,
Vessels older ere they’re broached.
If my mind be then not varied,
Next day following I’ll be married.

Moll is saying that she will only marry in a future utopia where all social wrongs have been righted and where women have achieved true equality with men. As Jean E. Howard writes in “Crossdressing, The Theatre, and Gender Struggle in Early Modern England,” The Roaring Girl uses the figure of Moll “to defy expectations about women’s nature and to protest the injustice caused by the sex-gender system.”

Moll Cutpurse, in other words, is the mother of all Riot Grrrls.

Although the historical Moll Frith, as opposed to the character in the play, did eventually marry, it seemed to have been an arrangement of convenience and didn’t cramp her ebullient lifestyle in the least. Her entire life she insisted on proudly calling herself a spinster.

Desdemona, move over. Moll Cutpurse is swaggering center stage.

Mary Sharratt’s new novel, The Dark Lady’s Mask: A Novel of Shakespeare’s Muse, will be published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt on April 19. Visit her blog:

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Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Review: The Dark Lady's Mask by Mary Sharratt

Title: The Dark Lady's Mask
Author: Mary Sharratt
Format: ARC
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publish Date: April 19, 2016 (Yesterday!)
Source: HFVBT

What's the Story?:

From "London, 1593. Aemilia Bassano Lanier is beautiful and accomplished, but her societal conformity ends there. She frequently cross-dresses to escape her loveless marriage and to gain freedoms only men enjoy, but a chance encounter with a ragged, little-known poet named Shakespeare changes everything.

Aemilia grabs at the chance to pursue her long-held dream of writing and the two outsiders strike up a literary bargain. They leave plague-ridden London for Italy, where they begin secretly writing comedies together and where Will falls in love with the beautiful country — and with Aemilia, his Dark Lady. Their Italian idyll, though, cannot last and their collaborative affair comes to a devastating end. Will gains fame and fortune for their plays back in London and years later publishes the sonnets mocking his former muse. Not one to stand by in humiliation, Aemilia takes up her own pen in her defense and in defense of all women."

My Two Cents:

"The Dark Lady's Mask" is the story of Aemilia who is mostly known to history as William Shakespeare's mistress. This has been oft questioned and disputed but this books drives forward under the premise that she was his mistress. This book breathes life into a woman's story who has mostly been lost to history.

I loved the character of Aemilia and I loved that Sharatt lets her truly stand on her own and out of Mr. Shakespeare's shadow. So much of the detail of her life seems to be lost to history and she is only remembered often for her dealings with Will. Aemilia is a fascinating person in her own right. She was incredibly educated, which was so unusual for women of her time. The story goes through a good chunk of her life so we the readers really get to know her well. I loved following her life.

The writing of the book was good! There is so much detail that the characters really come to life! The author did a great job of evoking the time period. I loved imagining all of the places that Aemilia goes throughout the book. One of the fantastic things about historical fiction is that it can help tell the story of people forgotten to history. The details of Aemilia's life are too often forgotten. Overall, this is a great pick about a fascinating woman!

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