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Friday, May 29, 2015

Review: The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri

Title: The Lowland
Author: Jhumpa Lahiri
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: Knopf
Publish Date: September 24, 2013
Source: Library

What's the Story?:

From "Two brothers bound by tragedy; a fiercely brilliant woman haunted by her past; a country torn by revolution. A powerful new novel--set in both India and America--that explores the price of idealism and a love that can last long past death.

Growing up in Calcutta, born just fifteen months apart, Subhash and Udayan Mitra are inseparable brothers, one often mistaken for the other. But they are also opposites, with gravely different futures ahead of them. It is the 1960s, and Udayan--charismatic and impulsive--finds himself drawn to the Naxalite movement, a rebellion waged to eradicate inequity and poverty: he will give everything, risk all, for what he believes. Subhash, the dutiful son, does not share his brother's political passion; he leaves home to pursue a life of scientific research in a quiet, coastal corner of America.

But when Subhash learns what happened to his brother in the lowland outside their family's home, he comes back to India, hoping to pick up the pieces of a shattered family, and to heal the wounds Udayan left behind--including those seared in the heart of his brother's wife."

My Two Cents:

"The Lowland" is yet another great release by Jhumpa Lahiri, who is quickly becoming one of my must-read authors. This book looks at two very different brothers. Subhash leaves India to make a new life for himself in the United States. Udayan stays behind in India where he is drawn to the Naxalite movement. His idealism will put him in danger. This is a story of family ties and human nature written in Lahiri's fantastic writing style.

I knew nothing about the Naxalite movement before reading this book and I love when I can learn something new from a book. We see how Udayan gets wrapped up in the movement even when it puts his life in danger. Subhash is left to pick up the pieces of a shattered life and a shattered family. This is a really powerful book. The way that Lahiri writes her characters makes them seem incredibly real and like people that you could really come across in real life. We get to know the characters very well. This book covers a broad swath of time in the brothers' lives but it never feels as if Lahiri is rushing things in the telling of their story.

I really enjoyed this story. Stories about families are always interesting to me. I thought that Lahiri did a really good job of capturing the way that siblings interact with each other and how they care about each other even when they don't necessarily agree with what the other is doing. I will be anxiously awaiting the next release by Lahiri!


Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Review: Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

Title: Fangirl
Author: Rainbow Rowell
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Publish Date: September 10, 2013
Source: Owned

What's the Story?:

From "Cath is a Simon Snow fan.

Okay, the whole world is a Simon Snow fan...

But for Cath, being a fan is her life—and she’s really good at it. She and her twin sister, Wren, ensconced themselves in the Simon Snow series when they were just kids; it’s what got them through their mother leaving.

Reading. Rereading. Hanging out in Simon Snow forums, writing Simon Snow fan fiction, dressing up like the characters for every movie premiere.

Cath’s sister has mostly grown away from fandom, but Cath can’t let go. She doesn’t want to.

Now that they’re going to college, Wren has told Cath she doesn’t want to be roommates. Cath is on her own, completely outside of her comfort zone. She’s got a surly roommate with a charming, always-around boyfriend, a fiction-writing professor who thinks fan fiction is the end of the civilized world, a handsome classmate who only wants to talk about words... And she can’t stop worrying about her dad, who’s loving and fragile and has never really been alone.

For Cath, the question is: Can she do this?

Can she make it without Wren holding her hand? Is she ready to start living her own life? Writing her own stories?

And does she even want to move on if it means leaving Simon Snow behind?"

My Two Cents:

"Fangirl" is yet another great book by Rainbow Rowell. When I pick up a book by this author, I know that I'm in for a treat. She is very quickly becoming one of those authors whose future releases are instant buys for me. "Fangirl" is the story of Cath, a young woman who is going to college for the first time. In the past, she has always leaned on her more outgoing twin, Wren, to steer her through life. When The twins go to college, Wren decides to forge out on her own leaving Cath behind. This is a coming-of-age novel that I really enjoyed.

Cath is a great character. Even though her sister has grown out of it, Cath is still very much into writing and reading and being incredibly obsessed by fan fiction about one of her favorite fictional characters from the Simon Snow series (which seems to be a take on Harry Potter). To some degree, she uses this make-believe world as an escape even though others seem to think that she's a little bit too old to be doing that. Even though I have never particularly been into fan fiction, there are a couple fictional characters that I could see being obsessed with. Cath finds this make-believe world to be very comforting and she continues to looking to her fan fiction writing to carry her through college.

I'm mentioned before that this book is also really a coming-of-age book. Once Cath gets to college and doesn't have her twin to lean on she realizes that she has to meet other people... or she could just stay in her room, which she seems happy to do at first. Eventually a love interest appears and really gets Cath out of her shell. There is a love triangle in this book, which is usually something that I don't particularly care for but in this case it really worked for the story. I like that the author was able to keep me on my toes with the triangle, which does not always happen. Overall, this book was a real treat!


Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Review: Absolutely True Lies by Rachel Stuhler

Title: Absolutely True Lies
Author: Rachel Stuhler
Format: Ebook
Publisher: Touchstone
Publish Date: May 26, 2015
Source: Publisher

What's the Story?:

From "A fledgling entertainment writer stumbles into the gig of a lifetime writing a teenage pop star's memoir and soon realizes that the young celebrity's squeaky-clean image is purely a work of fiction.

Struggling writer Holly Gracin is on the verge of moving back home to upstate New York when she gets hired to write the memoirs of eighteen-year-old Daisy Mae Dixson, a former Nickelodeon child star who has moved seamlessly into both blockbuster movies and pop music.

Holly quickly realizes that Daisy's wholesome public image is purely a work of fiction, as Holly finds herself trailing the star as she travels around the world on yachts, gets stalked by paparazzi, and sneaks out of five-star hotels in the dead of night.

As Holly struggles to write a flattering portrait of a teenage millionaire who only eats "nightshades" and treats her employees like slaves, Daisy has a public meltdown - and suddenly, her book is the cornerstone of resurrecting her image. But working at all hours trailing a pop star has taken its toll, and Holly must decide if becoming the ultimate insider is worth losing a starring role in her own life."

My Two Cents:

In "Absolutely True Lies," Holly is a down on her luck entertainment writer and Hollywood who's just trying to make it. She's working a dead end job so when she has the opportunity to be a ghostwriter for an autobiography of one of Hollywood's hottest young teen starlets, she jumps at the chance. She has no idea how this is going to upend her life.

The premise of the story was interesting to me. Hollywood and all of the things that go on in that crazy town are interesting to me but definitely not anywhere where I would want to find myself so reading a book about all of the Hollywood craziness and living vicariously through Holly was perfect for me. This is a good light read. It takes readers on Holly's journey from L.A. to Miami to Rome to New York as she follows around Daisy Mae Dixson, the young starlet who's wholesome, squeaky clean image is simply a ruse. Daisy reminded me a lot of a Miley Cyrus or an Amanda Bynes or a lot of other young Hollywood starlets. Holly sticks around because she wants to do a good job and this also may be the only shot she has for her career to finally take off.

I enjoyed the story however the author definitely has a tendency to tell more than show in the book, which I found myself a bit frustrated with. A lot of the characters actions are explained so explicitly that it makes the book lose a little bit of steam. I like the work that a reader does as they are reading the book in order to really digest what is going on and that opportunity is not really there in this book. Sometimes it's better to leave some of the detail to the actions in the book rather than saying explicitly what is happening. This did bog down the story quite a bit. Overall, I enjoyed the story but I wish that there was a little less spelled out so explicitly for me.


Thursday, May 21, 2015

Review: Boy, Snow, Bird by Helen Oyeyemi

Title: Boy, Snow, Bird
Author: Helen Oyeyemi
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: Riverhead Books
Publish Date: March 6, 2014
Source: Library

What's the Story?:

From "In the winter of 1953, Boy Novak arrives by chance in a small town in Massachusetts, looking, she believes, for beauty—the opposite of the life she’s left behind in New York. She marries a local widower and becomes stepmother to his winsome daughter, Snow Whitman.

A wicked stepmother is a creature Boy never imagined she’d become, but elements of the familiar tale of aesthetic obsession begin to play themselves out when the birth of Boy’s daughter, Bird, who is dark-skinned, exposes the Whitmans as light-skinned African Americans passing for white. Among them, Boy, Snow, and Bird confront the tyranny of the mirror to ask how much power surfaces really hold."

My Two Cents:

"Boy Snow Bird" is a book by Helen Oyeyemi, an author that I had been wanting to try for awhile. It is the story of Boy, a young woman who is running away from her troubled and difficult past in New York City. She finds herself in Massachusetts, which is where she meets Arturo, a man she falls in love with and marries. Boy then becomes the stepmother to Arturo's daughter, Snow. But when Arturo and Boy have a child together, Boy realizes that Arturo and his family are light-skinned African-Americans who are passing White. It's the 1950s and this is a scandal!

One of the things that made me interested in reading this book is that it was billed as being a retelling of the fairytale, Snow White and the Seven Dwarves. However, this isn't exactly a retelling. There are definitely elements from that story such as their recurrence of the appearance of mirrors in the story as well as Boy being sort of a wicked stepmother to Arturo's first daughter, Snow. That being said I wasn't disappointed in this book even though it turned out quite differently from what I thought it was going to be in the beginning.

This is my first time reading this author but I know that I will be back for more. I like the way that she was able to weave some magical realism throughout the story, which is one of my favorite elements. The author also has a really interesting way of using subtle details in order to make the reader think.

I did wish that we as readers were able to get a little bit closer to the characters in the book. Even though the book is narrated from their perspective, it still felt as if in many cases they were keeping the reader at arms' length. The sparkling writing made up for that at least a little bit for me!


Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Review: The Curse of Anne Boleyn by C.C. Humphreys

Title: The Curse of Anne Boleyn
Author: C.C. Humphreys
Format: Ebook
Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark
Publish Date: May 1, 2015
Source: Netgalley

What's the Story?:

From "Years have gone by since the events surrounding the death of Anne Boleyn. But her missing hand and all that it represents to the dark world of 16th-century Europe still draws the powerful to seek it out. Jean Rombaud - the French executioner of the first novel - has grown old, both in age and spirit. Wearied by the betrayal of a son and the scorn of a wife, he fights in the seemingly never-ending siege of Siena. Meanwhile, Gianni Rombaud has forsaken everything his ageing father stands for and now kills heathen for the Inquisition in Rome. Then he is summoned by Cardinal Carafa himself. His masters no longer merely want his dagger in the hearts of Jews, they want the hand of the dead queen... But only three people know where it is buried, and one of them is Gianni's father..."

My Two Cents:

"The Curse of Anne Boleyn" is a re-release of the second book in C.C. Humphreys' French Executioner series about Jean Rombaud. Before reading this book, I did not realize that this book was the second in a series. I must tell you that had I known that, I would have read the first book first as I had a lot of questions about the characters in this book. The premise of this book is that when Anne Boleyn was buried, one of her hands was cut off. It's now been many years since her death and several people are now after the missing hand in this book.

I have read several other books by C.C. Humphreys at this point in time and many of the things that I liked about his previous books are also present in this book. Although this is billed as historical fiction, it can also be build it as historical action. In this book, the French executioner Jean Rombaud is now older. The book focuses on him as well as on his son, Gianni. There are also some sections about Princess Elizabeth, Anne Boleyn's daughter and her captivity. To me, these sections were more compelling in a lot of ways. I am a huge fan of Elizabeth I and it was interesting to me to see Humphreys' take on the events surrounding her mother who she barely knew's death.

Here is where you have to take into account the fact that I did not read the first book. I would've liked to see a little bit more development of the characters. The focus is really on the action of the book and therefore I feel like I didn't really get to know The characters well at all. I really wanted to know what their motivations were and what made them tick.

For other history lovers, I enjoyed that this book covers the siege of Siena, Italy, something that I did not know much about at all. The author uses a lot of historical detail to help the reader understand all of the different parties involved and that historical event. I always like learning something new! Again, I want to go back and read the first book in the series to see if it gives me any more background on any of the characters in this book. This book is great for readers who are looking for an action story with a little bit of mystery included.


Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Review: The House of Hawthorne by Erika Robuck

Title: The House of Hawthorne
Author: Erika Robuck
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: NAL
Publish Date: May 5, 2015
Source: I received a copy from the publisher; however, this did not affect my review.

What's the Story?:

From "Beset by crippling headaches from a young age and endowed with a talent for drawing, Sophia is discouraged by her well-known New England family from pursuing a woman’s traditional roles. But from their first meeting, Nathaniel and Sophia begin an intense romantic relationship that despite many setbacks leads to their marriage. Together, they will cross continents, raise children, and experience all the beauty and tragedy of an exceptional partnership. Sophia’s vivid journals and her masterful paintings kindle a fire in Nathaniel, inspiring his writing. But their children’s needs and the death of loved ones steal Sophia’s energy and time for her art, fueling in her a perennial tug-of-war between fulfilling her domestic duties and pursuing her own desires.

Spanning the years from the 1830s to the Civil War, and moving from Massachusetts to England, Portugal, and Italy, The House of Hawthorne explores the tension within a famous marriage of two soulful, strong-willed people, each devoted to the other but also driven by a powerful need to explore the far reaches of their creative impulses. It is the story of a forgotten woman in history, who inspired one of the greatest writers of American literature.…"

My Two Cents: 

 "The House of Hawthorne" is Erika Robuck's latest historical fiction. I enjoyed "Hemingway's Girl" so I was looking forward to reading this book (I need to get on reading Robuck's other books - so many books, so little time). This book focuses on the relationship and marriage between author, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and his wife Sophia. Nathaniel is definitely the more well-known of the Hawthornes, however, his wife was also an artist in her own right.

I did not know much about Nathaniel Hawthorne's life before reading this book. It's always interesting to me to read historical fiction that takes a look at historical figures that you may not be familiar with. It seems like a great way to get an introduction! The only thing that I've ever read by Hawthorne is "The Scarlet Letter," so I was looking forward to reading about the man behind the book. Robuck looks at the interesting relationship between Nathaniel and Sophia. Sophia both inspired Nathaniel but was also an artist in her own right, who fought her own demons.

The book is told from Sophia's perspective, which I really liked. She had a interesting life in her own right before she met Nathaniel where she ended up in Cuba where she was trying to recover from health issues that would end up plaguing her for her entire life. I liked that we get to know her separately from Nathaniel as well as what they are like when they are together. Robuck breathes life into Hawthorne and we get to know him in a very intimately.

The relationship between Nathaniel and Sophia was interesting and it's easy to see why the author was drawn to writing about this couple. They fight a lot of the same demons as well as some different ones but in many ways, they bring out the best in each other. When Nathaniel and Sophia first meet, the sparks are almost instantaneous. They recognize in each other something that they don't find in a lot of other people: a love of art and an understanding of the importance of solitude. When they get married, there are some naysayers (including the famous Margaret Fuller) who say that art will be put on the proverbial back burner and neither Nathaniel nor Sophia will create anything great again. In the case of Nathaniel, he writes some of his most famous books while he is married. Sophia has a much different experience. The book explores how she copes with this and what she is able to create as part of the family.

Another thing that I enjoyed within this book is reading about all of the Hawthorne's other friends. Much of the book is set in Massachusetts, specifically Concord where the family makes their home. Concord was a haven for many writers including Henry Thoreau and Louisa May Alcott. It was interesting to see a different side of these writers than just their books.

The writing of this book was great! Again, I really liked that Sophia narrated the book. She has a wholly original voice and all of the detail made her seem real. I also really liked this book takes you so many different places. Although most of the book is set in Massachusetts, throughout the book the characters travel to England, Italy, and Portugal, which Robuck is able to bring to life with rich detail. I recommend this book to anyone who is looking for a good portrait of Nathaniel Hawthorne and his family or wants to do some armchair traveling.


Friday, May 15, 2015

Welcome, Katherine and Hadley!

So if you follow me on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram, you may have caught wind that my girls arrived about a month ago. It was actually a month ago yesterday and it has been a whirlwind, an absolutely amazing, fantastic whirlwind but a whirlwind nonetheless. This is a post that I have been meaning to write for awhile but trying to find the time and more importantly, the words has been hard.

Before we found out that we were having twins, I was totally prepared for the idea of having a baby. One. single. baby. When we found out that we were getting two babies at the very same time, my head was spinning. I feel like I spent a lot of my pregnancy just trying to wrap my head around the idea that we would be having two identical twin girl babies that would indeed be arriving at the same time.  On top of that, twin pregnancies, especially identical twin pregnancies can be scary. All the sudden, my husband and I found ourselves speaking in acronyms and weird terms. Talking about and worrying about the complexities of MoDi twins, TTTS, TAPS, and so on and so forth became de riguer for us. We live in the Washington, D.C. area so acronyms are just a way of life mostly but these are acronyms that frightened me in so many different ways.

After being on partial bed rest for a month and then full bed rest for almost two months after that, I got up on the morning of April 16th to use the bathroom. When I came back to bed, Phil asked me what time it was. I replied "4:30. We still have time to sleep!" Right at that moment, my water broke. This was exactly a week before I was supposed to have the girls (at 36 weeks and 4 days - here's the other thing about identical twins is that they have to be taken early because of increased risks after 37 weeks). I panicked. I wasn't ready. I was worried that because the girls were coming even earlier than expected that we'd run all sorts of risks such as health problems and NICU time. Luckily, my dear husband is a man of action and started flying around the house to pack up the last few things that I hadn't packed for my hospital stay yet while calling my doctor on call.

We got to the hospital and got signed in. The next few hours went quickly and slowly at the same time. We waited in triage to figure out what the next step would be. Phil did his best to keep my mind from running and off of how badly the contractions started to hurt. Finally, my doctor came in and said that all we were waiting for was an OR.

By 10:35 a.m., Katherine Mary was born.

By 10:37 a.m., Hadley Elizabeth was born.

With everything that I was worried about and had fixated on for the previous several months, the girls came out perfectly healthy. Katherine only weighed 4 pounds, 7 ounces and Hadley weighed 4 pounds, 11 ounces yet they were fierce. Both girls blew their Apgar scores out of the water and neither one had to have any NICU time at all!!!

 I knew I loved these girls before they arrived but what has been so amazing to me is how quickly it felt as if they have always been here. It sounds trite but I cannot imagine my life without them. Yesterday, they turned a month old and they have already grown so much. I feel like we are finally hitting a rhythm somewhat!

Anyone that knows me at all can tell you that I like plans. I really like plans. I am your classic "Type AI like to have things set and admittedly when my plans don't work out exactly the way that I had planned, it throws me off. My pregnancy was not smooth. I had to cancel a trip to India for a good friend's wedding and our babymoon to Philadelphia. I was on partial bed rest beginning at the end of January. By the end of February, I was on full bed rest. Just a few days before the girls arrived, I was diagnosed with mild pre-eclampsia. It was frustrating and actually quite scary for me at some points. If nothing else, my pregnancy and the birth of my girls taught me that you can't plan everything and the things that you don't plan don't always turn out badly. In fact, things can turn out quite well. Sometimes, the ability to be flexible and to roll with the punches is the only thing that you can plan for and that's okay. When you're open to all the different possibilities out there, truly amazing things can happen.

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