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7.27.2015

A Review: The Truth According to Us by Annie Barrows


"That was when I first heard about Layla Beck, when I began to wonder about my father, and when I noticed I was being lied to and decided to leave my childhood behind."

For the first time ever I believe I might actually meet my Goodreads Reading Challenge goal for the year. This is exciting for so many reasons. Maybe it's because I actually made it more realistic, setting it at 40 rather than 50, like in the past, where I've never even gotten close. It just didn't happen... but maybe it could now?! The Truth According to Us was my 20th and was completed just a day before the half-way point in the year! I can see victory on my horizon. These are exciting times, people! It also happened to be my favorite read thus far and has helped propel me into my next book, another ARC, This is Your Life, Harriet Chance!, which I'm also really enjoying. Ahhh... the book life.

I digress.

When I first started I was unable to overcome my desire to see what fellow book bloggers and enthusiasts were thinking about this one. It really is such a detrimental action but yet I still succumb. And I came across several reviews of respected fellow bloggers who just didn't feel like this delivered, and let me be the first to admit that it was far from perfect, but there was just something there that I loved so much. I was so happy that for once my impatience and curiosity hadn't spoiled something. What's more... I purposely paced myself in order to keep that world alive for just a bit longer and that's really what you want a book to do. It was just what I needed to start the summer and the next half of the year. For fans of the epistolary style found in the other title Barrows is so famous for, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, I promise you won't be disappointed. While the novel isn't told exclusively through letters from each of the participating characters, there are many that move the story along and add extra entertainment.

The novel centers on the small town of Macedonia, West Virginia during the depression. A small town much like any small town in the US of A at this period in time, everyone knows everyone, and they've all got a story to tell. Layla Beck is sent to Macedonia to record the history of town and its people for the Works Progress Administration after she refuses to marry a man her father, a wealthy senator, has chosen for her. Entitled and certainly naive, Layla learns Macedonia's history through the colorful townspeople, and her host family, the Romeyns. Little does she know she'll quickly fall head over heels for the patriarch, Felix Romeyn, and unearth some skeletons in the family's closet. With narration from the perspectives of Willa, Felix's eldest daughter, Jottie, Felix's eldest sister, and Layla herself, the reader is lost in Macedonia and an era that defined the nation.

Guys, I LOVED THIS NOVEL. All caps love. It's that serious. The story, tbh, was predictable and has been done before... BUT the characters! Oh my god. Jottie?! I loved her. I loved the family and the small town atmosphere and the southern dialogue. It offered a glimpse of how my grandparents' families were when they all got together. The phrase "hush up" took me back to family reunions from my childhood. I wanted to spend forever in those pages, conjuring up visions of my Nana sitting amongst my Papa's many sisters and their husbands. And if I'm being fair, that's probably why I connected to it like I did. On a deeper level, though, it also reminds readers what it's like to start seeing things as an adult as one comes of age.

Read it if you love historical fiction. Read it if you love epistolary tales. Read it if you're wanting something you could get lost in.



*I received an advanced reader's copy of this title from Random House through Netgalley.com in exchange for an honest review. 






7.14.2015

A Post: Readathon Wrap-Up

I did it! I participated in my first readathon and I'm already looking forward to the next one! Sometimes, and I'm ashamed to admit this, I feel really guilty if I read instead of doing other things, like focusing on my photography business, for example. Since I spend pretty much every night after my 8-to-5 editing, talking and/or meeting with new clients, marketing, and blogging for bethpriddy.com, reading has fallen by the wayside. The readathon gave me an excuse to dedicate every hour that I wasn't working to relax and READ to my heart's content. It was just what I needed.

I didn't finish the entire 24 hours because I did have to photograph an event and my sister-in-law was visiting, but I did complete 9 hours, one book, and a little over three quarters of another. I should note that I finished the second about 30 minutes after my 48 was up, so maybe I can count it? Anyway..

Thoughts





I mentioned that I loved Jane Harris's Gillespie and I (like top 10 books in my life love) and had tried reading this one before without success. Nope, not this time around. Summary: Poor Bessy is wandering the countryside of Edinburgh looking for work, when's she suddenly hired as a house maid to a Mrs. Arabella Reid, an English lady, she takes to be rather eccentric and out of place. Arabella, however, is quite brilliant, but suffers from secrets she keeps closely guarded. In an attempt to understand her mistress, Bessy begins snooping and ultimately uncovers information that leads her to play tricks that don't quite go to plan.

First, I should note that the rough dialogue is a little hard to get past in the beginning, but the authentic voice of a mostly uneducated woman working in the world of service in the 1860s is pretty incredible. Also, Bessy, the lead, is hilarious! I laughed out loud more times than I can count. A lot of reviewers expressed disappointment with the ending, and while it does lack the bang the reader expects, I still gave it five stars on Goodreads because I just really enjoyed being apart of the story. The rural atmosphere and townspeople came alive in the pages, and Bessy entertained me to no end. I recommend this to anyone, but especially those who love historical fiction or Jane Harris. Do it!!


Ranjit Singh is an ex-military Captain trying to make it in his new home in Martha's Vineyard after leaving India disgraced. Working multiple jobs to keep his wife and young daughter fed and housed, Ranjit is offered a position as caretaker to a well-loved senator's summer home on the island. When the Singh family loses heat during the winter, they decide to set up temporary camp in the Senator's home, a decision that will ultimately change their lives forever. Uncovering secrets about the Senator's shady international dealings and his tumultuous relationship with his wife, Ranjit is on a race around the city to save his family and the world.

Let me first say that I read this because NPR said the second in this series was a must-read this summer. I thought that I'd need to read the first in order to read the second and here we are. It was a fast one. Typical thriller material. Would I call it a literary thriller like every review I read before? Absolutely not. It's basically cheesy romance-part- thriller. And then there's the fact that Ranjit's whole family winds up in a detention center with the risk of being deported and all the while he's having sexy time with the Senator's wife. He blabs on and on and on about how he misses his daughter and his wife, but then as the date for deportation looms, he's literally banging this other lady while mentioning his guilt. And when the book concludes... he's flabbergasted that his wife doesn't want to return to America and doesn't want him back (btw, she doesn't even know about the banging activities). So yeah. It just didn't fit the character. At all. It was like forced, uncomfortable sex scenes to mix it up a bit. These issues aside, I did think it was awesome to see a cast of non-white leads in a new thriller. Ranjit is a Punjabi Sikh, the senator and his wife African Americans, with a Caucasian rounding out the cast as a corrupt secretary to the Senator. All and all, I'd say that if you've read other reviews and think you might like it, go for it. It's a quick read and won't break the bank. I gave this a 2.5 on Goodreads.


So.. what are you reading?? 

7.08.2015

My First Readathon!



It feels like it's been a million years since I've had any time to sit down and read. What better way to commit to giving myself a little downtime than signing up for a readathon?! I've always wanted to join in but the timing has never worked out, and while I do actually have to photograph an event for several hours on Saturday, I still have most of the weekend to kick back and get lost in a good one. Ahhhhhh! It's my first readathon and I'M SO EXCITED!!!! I've really missed reading and blogging and all you blogging buddies and just want to jump in on the action.

I went to the library this evening in anticipation and picked up a few titles I'd been eyeing on Goodreads. I'm sure there will be some changes (and technically Dangerous Liaisons doesn't count because I've already started it), but I'm pretty happy with what I've got so far.

Readathon TBR:

Icelander by Dustin Long

I know nothing about this one. I found it while looking for another book and thought it would be appropriate since I'll be visiting Iceland in September. *Shrugs shoulders*

Broken Glass Park by Alina Bronsky

I found this one in a used bookstore in Chicago but couldn't commit to buying it at the time. I'll admit I'm not familiar with her work, but do know she has an extensive library, so fingers crossed.

The Observations by Jane Harris

I tried this one a couple of years ago and couldn't finish. But then Harris went and wrote one of my all-time favorites, Gillespie and Iso I figured I'd give it another go.

What We've Lost is Nothing by Rachel Louise Snyder

This title is my library's summer reading choice (One Book, One Oak Park). You  know, the whole community chooses a book for the season and then a huge event is held for people to participate and discuss. It's pretty awesome. It also happens to be based in my current home base, Oak Park, IL, so it'll be doubly interesting.

Second Life by S.J. Watson

I enjoyed Before I Go to Sleep (I really liked the movie), so it was added to the list because thrillers are always fast reads. Online sex circles? Ha. Doesn't sound like my cup of tea but I'm giving it a go. The book, not the circles...

The Caretaker by A.X. Ahmad

The second novel in this series made a recent must-read thriller list on NPR, and who am I to argue with that?! So I picked up the first. We'll see.


So... friends, what are you planning on reading?!? Anyone have any must-read historical fiction recommendations that I should add ASAP?!

4.21.2015

A Review: The Dream Lover by Elizabeth Berg



Elizabeth Berg's The Dream Lover is the story of George Sand: French novelist, protofeminist, and inamorata to some of history's leading men.  

I must admit that I haven't read Sand's work. I actually, and this is outright embarrassing, had only learned of her after watching a movie based on her relationship with Frederic Chopin. You know, the film with a young Hugh Grant as a sickly Chopin? Yep, I totally had a thing for him (Grant) as a teenager, and was also obsessed with Chopin, so she was really just a side note. Whatever. So I basically knew that these two had gotten busy together and that she wore men's clothing but that was about it. Pathetic.

This novel delves into the life of George Sand beginning with her parents ill-suited match, adding color to her formative years. Assuming that much of the novel is based on biographies of the writer, there's much to be learned, or at the very least, researched after finishing the book. I had no idea she was close friends with some of her more well-known literary, male contemporaries. The atmosphere was lovely and I was instantly transported to the busy streets of Paris, or the idyllic, lush countryside of her family estate at Nohant. It was the perfect companion for escaping the everyday life for an hour or so.

That being said, I didn't entirely love this novel. As of late, I've felt that many narrators in historical novels sound eerily similar, and this one was no different. Is this just me?! Anyway, the beginning seemed promising, as we learn of Sand's family background, of her relationship with a grandmother who means the best but demands the rigid etiquette of post-revolutionary France, which paves the way for George and her exciting life ahead. However, the moments where the reader is forced, suddenly, into George's present day life, consists of being fed exacting play-by-plays of her deteriorating relationships with lovers and her inability to write without them. It was something along the lines of, "and then I started seeing x, but it just didn't work after I caught him with z, so we broke it off." Every. Time. And the woman falls in love with like every dude (and maybe one lady) she meets. Ok, ok, so maybe that's just how she operated so I can't really fault the book for that, but the jump from one summary of a lover to the next was boring and didn't offer anything substantial in terms of character development. I really longed to get back to Nohant and watch her grow.

At the end of the day, I would recommend this book to friends who love historical fiction and want to read about a pioneering lady figure. It's perfect for getting swept away to a different time and place, especially imagining being apart of the literary circles of Paris at this time. And I'll admit that I did learn a lot about her life, even though this work was fiction, as it prompted me to research her life past the pages. I'll definitely be adding Sand's work to my TBR moving forward.

Read this title? Share your thoughts! I'd love suggestions of other historical fiction to add to the TBR, as well!

*I received an advanced reader's copy of this title from Random House through Netgalley.com in exchange for an honest review.

4.03.2015

A Review: Hausfrau by Jill Alexander Essbaum


Shame on me. I got an ARC of this novel months ago and am just now getting around to saying a thing or two about it. Honestly, with the conversation about the novel over at The Socratic Salon is it even necessary for me to review?

Yeah, I guess I'll still add my two cents.

Summary

Anna Benz is an American expat living in Switzerland with her Swiss husband, Bruno, and their three children. Anna's life is, to put it bluntly, monotonous, and she's drowning in depression. Add a couple of affairs to the mix and she's basically a train wreck you can't help but watch. 

Thoughts

I'm just going to come right out and say that I hated Hausfrau initially. And I honestly don't think I'd go back and reread. However, if you've taken the time to review the conversation over at The Socratic Salon (expect spoilers), you might have totally different feelings going into it/another read. Anyway, back to my thoughts... I found Anna insufferable (p.s. there are plenty of novels I've loved that didn't have the most loving protagonist). And while much of her story relies on her actions caused by very apparent mental health issues, I found she lacked something that prompted any sympathy on my part. I know there are readers who will condemn this review for even saying it, and I also know that everyone deals with depression in their own way, but there were too many things about Anna that seemed too selfish and reckless to overlook despite these problems. Her allusions to her life prior to moving to Switzerland, a place she very much feels out of place but doesn't assert herself to counter, suggested that she had always suffered in some way but simply went along with it rather than acknowledge it. Furthermore, you have to imagine that Bruno and Anna were happy at some time, but those memories never surface. With that being said, I do understand that someone as depressed as Anna wouldn't necessarily be recalling those moments, but it was still infuriating to see her subconsciously recognize her problem and then bring three children into the world. And let's not even talk about Bruno, ok? That guy. Ugh. Anyway, I was a little peeved with the fact that she had waited so long to seek help, and then finally did but visited a Jungian therapist who seemed to never actually get anywhere with her or be asking her questions that would actually matter. I can't claim to know anything about Jungian psychology, so I'll leave it at that, but I will warn readers that there are whole pages dedicated to Anna at her appointments where the Jungian analysis bored me to no end. FYI: I loved the idea of psychology courses in college but actually hated them once enrolled so maybe I'm not the best judge.

I'm going to say read it if you like Jungian psychology, if you enjoy graphic scenes of what seems like painful sex, if you want to feel like you're in a Swiss village, if you love a good twist, if you're into watching someone basically destroy their future. I'm being dramatic. While Hausfrau certainly won't be regarded one of my reads of the year, Essbaum has a way with words, and her characters are believable. You might not love Anna, but you'll at least hope that she can find something to help make her whole by the end of it.

Moment of Truth

I definitely requested this book because of the cover art. LOOK AT IT! So beautiful. You're free to judge me now. P.S. You can watch the coolest video of the design process for this title: Illustrated Hausfrau Video


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